Battle for mewspaper

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The Independent Online
TWO NEWSPAPER groups are battling for a stake in Newspaper Publishing plc, owner of the Independent on Sunday and the Independent.

One is a consortium including Mirror Group Newspapers, publishers of the Daily and Sunday Mirror, Andreas Whittam Smith, co-founder of the Independent, and the Spanish and Italian newspapers El Pais and La Repubblica, the company's biggest shareholders.

It is offering to buy all the shares that its members do not already own at between pounds 2.40 and pounds 2.80. (The shares were issued at pounds 1 but have traded as high as pounds 5.50.) The Mirror group would end up with a 40 per cent stake. Its chief executive, David Montgomery, says the group's representatives on the board would not seek a voice in editorial policy or appointments. But the bid was unanimously opposed at a meeting of members of the National Union of Journalists at the two papers.

The rival bidder is the Irish Independent group, under its millionaire chairman, Tony O'Reilly, which would involve a printing and facilities arrangement with the Daily Express. O'Reilly is offering to put up pounds 21m for a new issue of convertible shares valued at pounds 3, which would amount to a quarter of the equity. He would then make an offer for 20 per cent of the existing shares at pounds 2.50.

This could notionally give him some 40 per cent of the company, but he says he would convert only as many of the convertible shares as were needed to take his holding up to 25 per cent in all

The two declared bids will be considered this week by those board members not involved in the Mirror/Whittam Smith consortium. Meanwhile, Conrad Black, owner of the Telegraph newspapers, has declared an interest without so far making a formal offer.

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