Trinity Mirror Purchase of Express Faces U.K. Intervention

(Bloomberg) -- The U.K. government demanded a further review of Trinity Mirror Plc’s purchase of the rival Express and Star tabloids after saying that the acquisition would consolidate control of newspapers.

Culture Minister Matt Hancock said the media regulator Ofcom should start an additional probe of the 126.7 million-pound ($173 million) purchase of Northern & Shell, which would see Trinity Mirror become the U.K.’s second-largest national newspaper organization and may harm the plurality of views in newspapers.

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.

Deals to consolidate the British media have spurred two separate government reviews over the levels of influence a company can have over the media landscape. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox Inc. is waiting for a final decision on its own takeover of Sky Plc.

Ofcom must report back to the government on the deal’s impact on editorial decision-making by May 31, while the antitrust watchdog will be required to speed up its own review over whether the transaction could reduce competition.

Hancock will then decide whether to seek a more detailed investigation and whether he should accept potential remedies.

Trinity Mirror Chief Executive Officer Simon Fox said in a statement that the review was a possibility when it acquired Express parent Northern & Shell and company continues to believe there are no media plurality or competition issues.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.