Investors tell Pearson's Scardino to sell the 'FT'

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The Independent Online

Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of the publishing company Pearson, faced calls from shareholders yesterday to sell the loss-making Financial Times newspaper, which they fear is dragging down the performance of the now mainly educational business group.

Marjorie Scardino, the chief executive of the publishing company Pearson, faced calls from shareholders yesterday to sell the loss-making Financial Times newspaper, which they fear is dragging down the performance of the now mainly educational business group.

At Pearson's annual meeting in London, several shareholders quizzed Ms Scardino and the board over their commitment to the FT, whose sales in the UK and Ireland, according to Pearson, have dwindled to an average of 146,000, compared with 178,000 in 1999.

"Why not forget the FT and concentrate on the education publishing sector? Why not focus on what gives us certainty?" Michael Hall, a private shareholder in Pearson, asked the board.

Losses at the newspaper widened to £32m in 2003 from £23m the previous year. But Dennis Stevenson, the chairman of Pearson, categorically ruled out any intention to sell the FT. "Rumours of us selling the FT are completely untrue. We have no intentions to do so," he said.

Speaking after the meeting, Ms Scardino also reiterated her previous stance that she would sell the FT "over her dead body".

She and the board blamed the FT's problems on the slump in business advertising, and said the decline in the circulation at the FT would reverse once the advertising market picked up. "The circulation has fallen in line with the fall off in jobs in the City. It has now stabilised, but it is important to remember that the FT is an international newspaper," Ms Scardino said. "I'm now pretty upbeat about the advertising market. Recruitment advertising, for example, is now picking up."

Pearson, which also owns the Penguin book publishing company, also announced yesterday it had won a major contract to publish the BBC's children's books.

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