Green fuels speculation over Carlton move

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The Independent Online
Michael Green, the chairman of Carlton Communications, fuelled City speculation yesterday that he might play a spoiling role in the proposed MAI/United merger, or even make a move for Mirror Group.

At the group's annual shareholders' meeting Mr Green was in Delphic mood, brushing off all attempts before and after the meeting to draw him on the rumours that are swirling around his company.

None the less he left brokers with the impression that something was afoot and that it could become clear as early as today.

One option might be to make a dawn raid on MAI, the financial services to media group, with a view to obstructing its planned merger with Lord Stevens' United Newspapers Group. The other option, according to brokers last night, was that he might be preparing for a move on Mirror Group, part-owner of the Independent titles.

Imminent moves by Mr Green were believed more likely in the wake of rumours that he was poised to appoint additional public relations and financial advisers.

Financial Dynamics was tipped as a possible public relations adviser in the event of any corporate action by Mr Green, although a spokesman for the firm said that it was not currently engaged by Carlton. The firm is a big player in the media sector and is adviser to Mirror Group.

On the financial advisory front there were rumours that Mr Green would appoint additional stockbrokers to avoid conflicts of interests that might be faced by current advisers.

Mr Green himself would not be drawn on his plans, refusing to take questions from journalists. In answer to the single question from the floor, he said: "We obviously have a great interest and are monitoring the situation. We have been considering numerous scenarios. There are big issues and of course Carlton should be looking at them."

Mr Green is thought to have been wrong-footed by swift action earlier this month by Granada and MAI, which have each made strategic moves in anticipation of the passage of the radical new Broadcasting Bill. For the first time newspaper and television companies will be able to own each other.

There has been speculation that Mr Green could opt for either television or newspapers. But in a hint that television might be the preferred avenue for expansion, Mr Green said yesterday: "We look forward to capitalising on the opportunities of screen-based entertainment and believe that this strategy suits us well."

The City is divided over whether regulators would allow Mr Green to make a full bid for MAI as the combination of the two companies might trigger a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. However he is believed to be intent on breaking up the proposed merger between MAI and United. Analysts speculated that if Carlton bought a significant shareholding in MAI, it could force Lord Hollick, MAI's chairman, to enter into separate negotiations, giving Mr Green the opportunity to bid for parts of the MAI empire.