Irish competition watchdog launches investigation into Reach takeover of Express Newspapers

Ireland’s competition watchdog is launching an in-depth probe into Reach’s £126.7m takeover of the Express and Star newspapers.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission said on Friday that a preliminary investigation found further analysis would be needed to determine whether the proposed acquisition by Reach, formerly Trinity Mirror, would harm competition in Ireland.

It is launching a so-called Phase 2 investigation into Reach’s takeover of Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell Media Group, which owns titles including the Daily Express and Daily Star.

The Republic of Ireland’s CPCC will make a final decision over whether to approve the deal by 23 October and will take submissions until 24 July.

Last month, the Express takeover was cleared by the UK Government after then Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said he would not refer the deal for a full investigation.

He said he accepted Ofcom’s conclusions the deal does not raise public interest concerns over plurality of views in the media, and does not raise concerns in relation to free expression of opinion in newspapers.

Hancock added he backed the UK watchdog the Competition and Market Authority’s findings that the acquisition does not lead to a substantial reduction of competition in any market.

Under its planned takeover, Reach will pay an initial £47.7m to Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell, followed by £59m between 2020 and 2023 and a further £20m in shares.

Reach has warned there will be job losses under aims to slash annual costs by £20m within two years, although it is unclear how many at this stage.

It comes at a difficult time for the newspaper industry, which is grappling with sliding advertising revenues.

Reach has warned of another fall in advertising revenue and increased provisions relating to the phone-hacking scandal by £7.5m.

In a trading update for the 26 weeks to July 1, Reach said total group revenue is expected to grow by 11 per cent, reflecting the acquisition of Northern & Shell, the company behind the Daily Express and Daily Star.

However, like-for-like revenue over the period excluding the Express and Star is set to fall by 8 per cent.

Publishing revenue is tipped to be down 8 per cent, with print falling by 10 per cent and digital increasing by 1 per cent. Classified advertising is expected to fall by 19 per cent.

Picture: Yui Mok/PA Wire

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