Media regulator Ofcom is to investigate a pending £200m takeover of the Express and Star by Trinity Mirror to assess whether the takeover could have any implications for editorial independence and media plurality in Britain.
The proposed deal would see Trinity Mirror assume ownership of the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday, as well as well as celebrity gossip magazine OK!
Ofcom’s intervention follows calls from culture secretary Matt Hancock for greater scrutiny to be brought to bear on the proposed tie-up, amidst concern that the enlarged group would command nine of 20 national newspapers – making Trinity Mirror the UK’s second largest newspaper group in the process.
Hancock said: “I have written to the parties today confirming my decision to issue a public interest intervention notice (PIIN) on both grounds. I will then consider whether or not to refer the merger for a more detailed investigation, or whether to accept undertakings-in-lieu of such a reference.”
Trinity Mirror chief executive Simon Fox has gone out of his way to stress that the right-wing Express titles would remain independent and not follow the lead of the Labour-supporting Mirror titles.
Ofcom has been given until 31 May to reach a decision in the case after which Hancock could conceivably block the merger or demand the sell-off of some titles to make it more palatable.
The Competition Markets Authority are conducting their own investigation in tandem with Ofcom.