GWR chief attacks rivals over merger submissions

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The Independent Online

Ralph Bernard, the chairman of the radio group GWR, has hit out at his two biggest rivals for making "mischievous" submissions to the regulator, in an attempt to scupper his group's planned merger with Capital Radio.

Ralph Bernard, the chairman of the radio group GWR, has hit out at his two biggest rivals for making "mischievous" submissions to the regulator, in an attempt to scupper his group's planned merger with Capital Radio.

Reporting interim figures yesterday, Mr Bernard was critical of responses from Emap and Chrysalis to the Office of Fair Trading, which is looking at the GWR-Capital deal.

Emap, Chrysalis, GWR and Capital are the top four radio operators in the UK. If the GWR-Capital deal is approved, the combined group will have more than one-third of the radio advertising market. However, the industry collectively lobbied for changes to the law to make large radio mergers possible.

"These are mischievous submissions. I can see why they've done it but I would not have acted this way," Mr Bernard said.

It is understood that Emap has suggested that a combined GWR-Capital not be allowed to bid for new radio licences for five years, while Chrysalis has called for an investigation of the merged group's position in the emerging digital market place. "How can you raise concerns about a market that doesn't yet exist?" Mr Bernard said. Turning to Emap, he said: "This is just anti-competitive."

The OFT is due to announce whether it is referring the Capital-GWR deal to the Competition Commission next month. Mr Bernard said that, with an increasingly commercial BBC radio presence, there was a need to have another major player "to mount a proper challenge to the BBC".

GWR reported a 12 per cent rise in underlying pre-tax profits to £6.9m for the six months to 30 September. Revenues grew 1.2 per cent at its stable of local stations, while its national Classic FM saw a 6.4 per cent sales gain. However, the market focused on current trading, where the news was much more gloomy, sending the shares down 4 per cent to 232p, as analysts cut full-year forecasts.

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