The UK competition watchdog has launched a formal investigation into Trinity Mirror’s completed purchase of the Daily Express stable of newspapers.
The £127m deal was wrapped up on March 1 and a new name for the merged entity — Reach — announced.
But the Competition and Markets Authority warned then that it was looking at the tie-up, blocking the two companies from doing anything further to integrate their businesses until it had decided if the deal threatened media competition.
Trinity Mirror last month noted that the watchdog was looking into the merger, saying it believed “there would be no reduction in media plurality as a result of the acquisition”.
But on Wednesday, the CMA said it had launched an initial investigation to “assess whether this deal could significantly reduce competition within the UK media sector”. It will make a decision whether to launch a full investigation by June 7.
The CMA has also flagged the inquiry to the department for digital, culture, media and sport, indicating that there may be public interest considerations to be taken into account.
If the DCMS decides that the deal could compromise the accurate representation of news, free expression or the plurality of views in the British press, the secretary of state can request deeper investigations by the CMA and other regulators. The government can demand remedies or even block the deal within a four-month window after it has closed.
This is not the only deal stoking fears about the potential impartiality of UK news reporting: the CMA is also looking into whether a bid by Rupert Murdoch to take over Sky would give the media mogul too much control.
Mr Murdoch’s company, Fox, which currently owns 39 per cent of Sky, wants to take full control of the pay-TV company in a £11.7bn deal. But the tycoon also controls News Corp, owner of The Sun and The Times newspapers, and Talksport radio.
In an effort to allay the regulator’s concerns, Fox has proposed separating Sky News from Sky as an independent company with its own board. The CMA is due to deliver its recommendations on the proposed takeover by May 1, after which Matt Hancock, culture secretary, will make a decision on the deal.
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