Re-investigation blow for Herald campaigners

HOPES that the owners of the Herald group of newspapers would be ordered to honour quality pledges, made when they became owners, have suffered a blow – because of time.

On Friday, the Competition Commission said it was to re-investigate the purchase of the group – which includes The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times – by Newsquest, from SMG.

But yesterday, the Commission informed SNP MP, Pete Wishart, that it now realises it cannot re-investigate, because there’s a three-year window for such things and it was four years ago when the papers were sold and five years ago when it looked into whether the purchase contravened competition standards.

Wishart has been supporting a campaign by the National Union of Journalists to have the purchase re-visited by the commission, not least pledges made by Newsquest about the quality of the titles, because of recently-announced budget and job cuts.

Newsquest is seeking a budget cut of upto three million pounds. Sackings – of staff at the Evening Times – has resulted in the union balloting members on industrial action, including strike action – the result of which is expected on Friday.

Says the SNP: “In [a] letter [to Mr Wishart], the Competition Commission reveal that the investigation cannot be reconvened because more than three years have expired since the original investigation and is therefore now covered by different legislation.”

It continues: “Mr Wishart will be raising this with John Hutton MP, Secretary of State for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.”

Said Mr. Wishart: “I am disappointed that only a technicality has prevented the reopening of this investigation and given Newsquest ‘a get out of jail card’. The Competition Commission have conceded that there is a case to answer but have been unable to pursue this because of the legislation.

“However, the new Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform minister has the authority to allow this inquiry to be re-opened and I will be writing him to seek his support in revisiting this take-over.”

Added Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish Organiser: “While disappointed that we are being frustrated by technicalities, we will continue our fight to make these people accountable. I am confident that any reasonable person would see that our allegations stand up. Newsquest are causing serious damage to the titles by their cuts.”