John McLellan comment: Trinity swoop on Northern & Shell could be resolved rapidly

The Competition and Markets Authority announcement that the Trinity Mirror acquisition of Daily Express publisher Northern & Shell raises 'public interest considerations' feels like a throwback to the 1980s and a time when social media, live streaming and mobile technology were the stuff of science fiction.

John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society. Picture: Contributed

With the migration of so much advertising content to social media platforms – 90 per cent of all new business is being snapped up by Google and Facebook alone – the issue in commercial terms is not whether the Daily Mirror-Daily Express link distorts the advertising markets but how effective competition can be mounted against the social media giants. The Northern & Shell portfolio also includes magazines like OK, but again that is unlikely to make much difference in competitive terms when the real battleground has moved away from the newsstands.

The only other possible impediment would be the impact on breadth of opinion in the news market, but Trinity has already said that there are no plans to dictate a different editorial policy to the paper’s traditional right-of-centre position. In the interests of increasing commercial market reach, it wouldn’t be in its interests to do so.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Integration of the two publishers has been on pause since the CMA issued a holding order last month, and now a deadline of 25 April has been set for comments from interested parties and they are unlikely to be inundated with objections. The short timescale might indicate that the CMA feels it has to go through the motions, but if anti-competitive issues emerge than a decision might not be taken until the end of the year. If no problems arise then the go-ahead could be given on 7 June when an indicative announcement is made.

- The Defamation and Malicious Publications (Scotland) Bill published by Scottish Law Commission chair Lord Pentland at the end of last year is now under consideration by the Scottish Government, the first step towards its inclusion in a legislative programme.

Discussions are now being arranged by civil servants with interested parties for later in the spring, so there is optimism that the reforms to Scottish defamation law the Bill proposes could be adopted as Government policy and be passed into law before the end of this parliament in 2021.

- The once-a-year gathering of the Scottish newspaper industry takes place next Thursday evening with the annual Scottish Press Awards, held for the first time at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Cambridge Street in Glasgow. Hosting the event this year is TV and radio presenter and long-standing Scotsman columnist Stephen Jardine.

All eyes will be on the Daily Record to see if it can make it four Newspaper of the Year awards in a row, following the departure of both editor Murray Foote and managing director Allan Rennie in recent weeks.

- John McLellan is director of the Scottish Newspaper Society