Trinity Mirror deal for Express and Star faces competition scrutiny

The £200m deal struck by the publisher of the Mirror titles to buy Richard Desmond’s Express and Star newspapers is to be investigated by the competition regulator and referred to Matt Hancock, the culture secretary, over potential concerns it will reduce media plurality in the national newspaper market.

Trinity Mirror shareholders voted in February to approve the deal to add the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star and Daily Star Sunday newspapers, as well as magazines including celebrity title OK!, to its national titles the Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror and Sunday People.

The Competition and Markets Authority said on Wednesday that it was launching a phase one inquiry which will look at whether the deal will result in a “substantial lessening of competition” in the national newspaper sales or advertising market. The CMA said it has until 7 June to decide whether to move to a fully fledged phase two competition investigation.

The CMA has also referred the deal to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport to examine, saying it “considered that the transaction may raise public interest considerations”.

Hancock will now weigh up whether the deal triggers media plurality concerns under the Enterprise Act 2002, which states that there is a need “in relation to every different audience in the United Kingdom or in a particular area or locality of the United Kingdom, for there to be a sufficient plurality of persons with control of the media enterprises serving that audience”.

If he believes there may be concerns, he can ask Ofcom to look at whether the public will lose too much from a reduction in plurality with Trinity Mirror controlling so many national newspaper titles.

Simon Fox, the Trinity Mirror chief executive, has repeatedly pledged that his Labour-supporting Daily and Sunday Mirror will keep Desmond’s Brexit-supporting titles editorially independent. “The Mirror is not going to go rightwing and the Express is not going to go leftwing,” he said. “They will absolutely all have editorial independence.”

As the deal completed, however, the editors of the Daily Express and Daily Star resigned. Trinity Mirror immediately announced the appointment of two of its own executives – Sunday Mirror and Sunday People editor Gary Jones, and Daily Mirror associate editor Jon Clark – as replacements.

Fox has said he believes the deal will pass competition regulation muster, saying the combined circulation of Trinity Mirror’s national titles would still be less than that of the Sun, and the titles would not control too much of the national newspaper ad market. Enders Analysis estimates that the enlarged company will account for 24% of national newspaper circulation.