Media takeover test could stymie Desmond bid for 'Telegraph'

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The Independent Online

Richard Desmond, Lord Rothermere and other potential bidders for The Daily Telegraph will face a gruelling "public interest test" from the media regulator, which published detailed guidelines on the issue yesterday.

Ofcom will scrutinise bids from established newspaper groups for their track record in editorial interference, complaints and content. While all established newspaper owners are likely to be subject to the public interest test, which will be administered by Ofcom from now onwards, analysts said the Ofcom guidelines would be challenging for Mr Desmond in particular.One regulatory expert said: "This isn't good news if you're Richard Desmond. He's a hands-on sort of guy."

Mr Desmond, owner of the Daily Express and The Star, has been frequently accused by journalists of editorial interference, with an alleged fixation with the issue of asylum seekers. Mr Desmond has always robustly rejected this charge. From a business perspective, he is credited with successfully slashing costs at The Express and turning around the fortunes of the Star.

Daily Mail & General Trust, another likely bidder for the Telegraph, will also come under scrutiny on public interest grounds, analysts said.

The Ofcom paper talked of: "Assessment of column inches dedicated to advertising, regional/local stories, sport, human-interest stories, features.... A declaration of any current political allegiances."

It is understood that Ofcom is also interested in examining the level of cross-promotional activity used by potential buyers - something heavily employed by Mr Desmond.

Ofcom wrote that it will assess: "The level of contact between the owner and the editor/other senior management staff as well as an assessment of any plans to alter the level of contact and or to significantly alter the composition of staff post-merger."

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