Trinity Mirror Purchase of Express to Get Added U.K. Review

(Bloomberg) -- Trinity Mirror Plc’s purchase of the rival Express and Star tabloids faces an additional public-interest review after U.K. Culture Minister Matt Hancock said the 126.7 million-pound ($178 million) deal would consolidate control of nine of 20 national newspaper titles.

Hancock said he wrote to Trinity Mirror and Northern & Shell, which owns the Express and Star tabloids, informing them that he will likely order media and competition regulators to start the additional probes. He said the decision was triggered by concerns related to the need for free expression and a plurality of views in newspapers.

“I have taken into account that the merged entity would own the largest share of national titles within the U.K. newspaper market, owning nine out of 20 national newspaper titles,” Hancock said in a statement. It would also “become the second-largest national newspaper organization in circulation terms, with a 28 percent share of average monthly circulation.”

The decision casts a regulatory cloud over the deal, which would unite the left-wing Mirror titles with the more conservative Express and Star. Britain’s publishers are battling declines in newspaper circulation and ad revenue as well as large debt and pension liabilities by selling assets and focusing more on digital publishing.

The deal is already under review by Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority, which has pledged to make a decision by June. The CMA is assessing whether the transaction could significantly reduce competition within the U.K. media sector.

“This is a part of the process that we were aware was possible following our acquisition of the Northern & Shell publishing assets,” Trinity Mirror Chief Executive Officer Simon Fox said in an emailed statement. “We continue to believe there are no plurality or competition issues.”

While so-called media plurality reviews are fairly rare, Hancock is awaiting results from a similar probe into 21st Century Fox Inc.’s takeover of Sky Plc.

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