Ex-OFT Gamekeeper Turns Poacher to Advise Granada on Merger

25 February 2003

It emerged Monday that Granada Media has hired John Bridgeman, former director-general of competition watchdog, the Office of Fair Trading, to advise it on its agreed merger with fellow ITV titan Carlton Communications.

The merger, which has been blessed (not to say bulldozed) by shareholders in both companies, is bitterly opposed by TV rivals, advertisers and agencies – all of whom have filed submissions with the OFT.

Should the latter decide not to refer the merger to the Competition Commission (the final arbiter in such matters) opponents fear it will become a fait accompli.

Which may explain why Bridgeman’s appointment as a Granada hireling last summer was such a low key matter. When questioned this week about his role by the press, he appeared disingenuous and professed surprise that his appointment had become a matter of interest, and that that there was nothing new about his role.

“I started working with Granada last summer,” he told MediaGuardian.co.uk. “They are working with lots of advisers on this very substantial transaction. I've worked with George Russell [Granada non-executive deputy chairman and former Independent Television Commission chairman] in various capacities over many years.”

[Some may think it significant that Bridgeman’s key word was ‘with’, not ‘for’. It is a matter of public record that in his salaried OFT capacity he worked ‘with’ Russell (and other senior ITV executives) during the OFT’s investigation into Carlton's unsuccessful attempt to take over the Meridian and Anglia TV franchises in 2000. Now, however, he is unquestionably working ‘for’ Russell and his colleagues – unless he has eschewed a fee for his services? The semantic difference is the width of the Grand Canyon.]

Granada hired Bridgeman’s services via his current employer, the London financial PR firm Cardew Chancery, whose regulatory unit he runs. Meantime, the former watchdog’s head has again withdrawn beneath the parapet and he declined to comment on the merger's current state of play. “The one thing I learnt was not to forecast what the authorities do in this process,” he said.

Data sourced from: MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff