O'Reilly buys into biggest NZ press group

BY MATHEW HORSMAN

Independent Newspapers, the Dublin-based newspaper company controlled by Tony O'Reilly, has paid £124m for a 28.8 per cent stake in New Zealand's largest publisher, Wilson and Horton.

Independent will pay NZ$10.50 a share, while the sellers, Brierley Investments, will receive an additional NZ$1.50 in the form of a dividend.

Wilson and Horton publishes the New Zealand Herald, the only mainstream newspaper in Auckland, with a circulation of 245,000,

It also publishes eight regional dailies throughout the country, including the Dominion in Wellington, and has a small specialist publication arm with an emphasis on educational titles.

The company's family owners had been unhappy with the Brierley investment, and sought permission to find a "compatible" investor from among newspaper companies.

Brierley agreed, provided it received a premium on its investment. It had paid NZ$9.50 a share for the stake last year.

Four companies expressed an interest, including Singapore Publishing, publisher of the Singapore Straits Times, and the Tribune Co, publisher of the Chicago Tribune.

Independent will have four out of 11 board seats, according to a spokesman. "The company is very well managed and we would not look to make any paticular changes," the spokesman said. Wilson and Horton has no plans to sell off any titles. The company recently spent £100m upgrading its printing operations to allow flexible pagination and larger print runs.

Separately, Independent confirmed it would take part in a forum organised by the Irish government on concentration in the Irish newspaper market. A Competition Authority inquiry concluded in its interim report that Independent had abused its "dominant postition" in the industry by taking over part of the ailing Irish Press Group.

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