Black looks to home for next media binge

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The Independent Online
Conrad Black's Hollinger group wants to take control of Canada's leading business newspaper, the Financial Post, in which he already has a 20 per cent stake, sources close to the company said at the weekend.

The purchase could coincide with a full bid for Southam, the giant Toronto- based newspaper group, in which Hollinger holds 41 per cent, following the purchase last week of a 20 per cent stake previously owned by Power Corporation of Montreal.

Mr Black's renewed interest in Canada, his home country, has fuelled speculation that he was preparing to sell a 25 per cent holding in Fairfax, a leading Australian newspaper group, to help finance acquisitions in North America.

But Mr Black's London-based lieutenant Dan Colson, deputy-chairman of the Telegraph Group and Fairfax, denied Mr Black was poised to sell the Fairfax shares. "Our position on Fairfax has not changed," he said yesterday. "We still want to increase our stake and will do so once we are permitted. The only reason we would want to sell is if the review does not allow us to increase our holding."

The Australian government is reviewing the cap on newspaper ownership that has kept Mr Black's Fairfax holding stuck at 25 per cent. Australian media mogul Kerry Packer owns 17 per cent of the shares, while Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation is believed to have a 5 per cent stake.

Mr Black's interest in the money-losing Financial Post, in which the Financial Times also has a stake, follows a decision earlier this month by its owners, Rogers Communications, to sell its newspaper division, which includes the Toronto Sun, a downmarket tabloid, as well as the Post.

Ted Rogers, who made a fortune in the cable industry in Canada, is believed to be seeking a single buyer for both the Sun and the Post, but Mr Black's advisers believe they can reach a deal none the less.

Two competing media companies, Thomson and Quebecor, are also thought to be interested in the Rogers titles. Toronto-based analysts speculated over the weekend that Power Corporation, controlled by Paul Desmarais, could bid for both the Toronto Sun and the Post, and arrange to sell the financial daily on to Hollinger at a later date.

Mr Black and Mr Desmarais's Power Corporation had been partners in Southam, where each held about 20 per cent of the shares. Late last Friday night, Mr Black announced he would pay pounds 294m for Power's stake.

Hollinger is now expected to make market purchases to take the holding to just short of 50 per cent. Thereafter, and probably within three months, Hollinger will make a full, all-share bid for the company, aiming to take its stake to more than 50 per cent. Mr Black has long coveted Southam, publishers of several leading papers.