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Wednesday, April 21, 1999 Published at 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK


Business: The Company File

Mirror bids warning

Political stance may be sale condition

Bidders to take over Mirror Group may be asked to give an undertaking not to change its flagship newspaper's support of Labour.

The Competition Commission raises the issue in letters to the chief executives of two regional newspaper groups interested in buying Mirror Group.

It says it is considering asking for "undertakings to preserve the existing political stance of certain Mirror Group newspapers (in particular The Mirror and the News Letter)".


[ image: Former Mirror chief executive David Montgomery]
Former Mirror chief executive David Montgomery
The commission - formerly the Monopolies and Mergers Commission - has written outlining the issues it would consider during its inquiry.

These include "the ability of a regional newspaper company to successfully manage national newspapers".

It also includes the effect of the merger "on the accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion, in particular the implications for editorial independence".

Of particular concern with the bid from Trinity, which owns the Belfast Telegraph, would be concentration of ownership in Northern Ireland, with the Mirror owning the News Letter.

"We will therefore want to discuss with you the consequences for the poilitical balance of the press there."

Disposal of titles

Both Trinity, which also owns newspapers in Liverpool, Cardiff and Newcastle, and Regional Independent Media (RIM), whose stable includes the Yorkshire Post, have entered indicative bids for Mirror Group.


[ image: Mirror presses on]
Mirror presses on
The commission said it had not yet reached any conclusions as to whether a merger may act against the public interest but asked the two bidders to consider a number of "hypothetical" remedies if it did.

These include the possible disposal of some or all of Mirror's national and Northern Ireland titles plus weekly newspapers where they overlap with Trinity's in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Other undertakings which they may be asked to give include one "not to close any Mirror Group titles(or competing titles) within a specified period".

New chief executive

The Mirror newspaper has traditionally had a left-wing bias and there have been concerns raised about the presence of former Conservative cabinet minister Sir Norman Fowler as chairman of RIM.

RIM has rejected any suggestion it might alter the paper's leanings and both groups said they had the necessary management skills to run national newspapers.

The two regional newspaper groups put in bids valuing Mirror Group at up to £972m. Mirror Group under its new chief executive John Allwood is now reported to be keen on retaining its independence.

Mr Allwood stepped up from deputy during talks about a merger with Trinity when the Chester based group made clear that it did not want then Mirror chief executive David Montgomery to have an executive role in a merged group.

Mirror Group owns regional newspapers in the English midlands in addition to its Northern Irish operation.



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