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SMG buys Hearts stake

SCOTTISH MEDIA Group, the ITV broadcaster and publisher of The Herald newspaper, yesterday outlined plans to invest pounds 8m in Edinburgh football club Heart of Midlothian.

SMG also said it had agreements from two shareholders to build on its 20 per cent stake in GMTV, the ITV breakfast-time broadcaster. Walt Disney, a 25 per cent owner, and Guardian Media Group, which owns 15 per cent, are understood to be willing to sell, while Granada and Carlton, its ITV rivals, each a 20 per cent shareholder, are weighing counter offers.

Gary Hughes, finance director, defended the move on GMTV. "It's entirely consistent with trying to build a nationally branded media business," Mr Hughes said. "Any suggestion that this could be a poison pill is far from reality."

Mr Hughes comments coincided with SMG reporting a marginal 2 per cent rise in interim pre-tax profits to pounds 24m on sales up 11 per cent to pounds 111.2m. The dividend rose 10 per cent to 8.8p.

If it succeeds in gaining control of GMTV, analysts believe SMG would be better positioned to escape the clutches of Granada, which bought an 18.6 per cent stake in the company in March.

SMG also agreed yesterday to pay pounds 3.5m for an initial 19.9 per cent interest in Hearts. It is also investing pounds 4.5m pounds in convertible loan stock, which could boost its stake to 37 per cent in four years. SMG shares closed up 4p at 900p.