'If the Telegraph is for sale, they should give me a call': Gert Ysebaert, Mediahuis chief executive
'If the Telegraph is for sale, they should give me a call': Gert Ysebaert, Mediahuis chief executive © Bloomberg

Belgian media group Mediahuis has said it is potentially interested in buying the Telegraph newspapers from the Barclay brothers, a move that would reunite the titles with their former chief executive Murdoch MacLennan.

Although no formal discussions have taken place, Gert Ysebaert, chief executive, told the Financial Times he was looking for acquisitions.

“If the Telegraph is for sale, they should give me a call,” he said at the FT’s Future of News conference on Tuesday, after being asked whether he would add to Mediahuis’ existing Telegraph brands in Ireland and the Netherlands.

David and Frederick Barclay are considering a sale of the Telegraph Media Group and other assets, in part to address the differing priorities of the billionaire twins and their families.

But no formal process has been launched to sell the titles, which were bought for £665m in 2004. Some potential buyers have been given mixed messages about the timescale and likelihood of a sale, according to three people briefed on discussions.

Another person with knowledge of discussions said the owner of the Daily Mail, which has expressed interest in buying the Telegraph, was put off by informal price expectations in excess of £200m. “They’re out,” the person said. Veteran UK media executive David Montgomery has also expressed interest.

Mediahuis is one of the few trade buyers in Europe with the resources and interest for further newspaper acquisitions. Mr Ysebaert has led a six-year dealmaking spree that has made the group one of the fastest-growing newspaper publishers in north-eastern Europe.

Created from the merger of the Flemish publishers Corelio and Concentra in 2013, privately owned Mediahuis quickly expanded in the Netherlands, securing a third of the newspaper market with the purchase of NRC Media and Telegraaf Media Groep.

Mediahuis moved into English-speaking news this year with the €145.6m takeover of Independent News & Media, which owns titles including the Irish Independent and The Herald. INM is chaired by Mr MacLennan, who served as chief executive of the Telegraph Media Group for 13 years under the Barclay brothers.

Taking account of INM’s revenues, Mediahuis’ turnover would be about €1bn this year, on a par with Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. Among the 35 titles owned by Mediahuis are two Telegraph brands: the Belfast Telegraph in Northern Ireland and De Telegraaf, the conservative Dutch daily.

The Telegraph’s financial health has weakened in recent years, with pre-tax profits in 2018 falling 94 per cent to £900,000 from revenues of £271m.

In June 2018, May Corporation, a Jersey-based company controlled by the Barclay brothers, provided a £100m loan to Press Acquisitions, the group that owns the Telegraph. Recently filed accounts show the loan replaced bank finance.

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