Byers clears way for news group bid battle

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The Independent Online

Stephen Byers yesterday cleared the way for a three-cornered fight for control of the provincial newspaper group Regional Independent Media, whose titles include the Yorkshire Post and Lancashire Evening Post.

Stephen Byers yesterday cleared the way for a three-cornered fight for control of the provincial newspaper group Regional Independent Media, whose titles include the Yorkshire Post and Lancashire Evening Post.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry ruled that the USA Today publisher Gannett, and the two UK groups, Guardian Media Group and Johnston Press, could proceed with rival bids for RIM, which analysts value at £650m-£700m.

Mr Byers' decision was in line with advice from the Competition Commission which ruled that a takeover of RIM by any of the three bidders would not operate against the public interest.

The ruling came as a surprise because it had been thought likely the Commission would place conditions on any takeover of RIM by Gannett, which controls Britain's third-largest regional newspaper group, Newsquest, with 301 titles. Industry observers said the Commission had been expected to demand concessions because of the dominant position an RIM takeover would give Gannett in the north-west market. The decision to allow all three groups to bid unconditionally could make it more difficult for Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Mirror newspapers, to succeed in a separate attempt to buy more than 50 of RIM's titles in the North-west.

The bid battle for RIM comes just six months after Gannett fought off Johnston and Trinity Mirror to acquire Newscom, owner of the Southampton Daily Echo and Hampshire Chronicle, for £444m.

Mr Byers dropped a hint that he may draw the line at further mergers, saying there were "potential dangers if consolidation in the regional and local newspaper industry were allowed to go too far".

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