Government Sets-Up Special Powers to Veto UK Press Takeovers

25 June 2002

The Enterprise Bill, currently in passage through the House of Commons, is designed to prevent future government interference in the approval or rejection of commercial takeovers and mergers – for long a party political football – and transfer the ultimate decision from government ministers to an independent agency, the Competition Commission.

But, following much uproar and lobbying, a key exception will be incorporated into separate legislation, the Communications Bill, also en route through Parliament.

The cause of the furore and the ensuring government U-turn is the much-criticized decision in November 2000 by Stephen Byers, then secretary of state for the Department of Industry and Commerce, to sanction the purchase of national press group Express Newspapers by Richard Desmond, a peddler of soft porn whose fortune was (and remains) founded on such top-shelf sleaze as Big Ones, Megaboobs, Asian Babes and Readers’ Wives.

The decision, already a political hot potato on grounds of public propriety, became white hot after it emerged that the takeover was approved just days after Desmond donated £100,000 ($149,158; €155,979) to Britain's ruling Labour Party.

Secretary Byers, however, insisted that his approval of the Desmond deal was entirely unconnected with the donation, claiming that the acquisition of the Express Group could not be blocked on competition grounds as Desmond did not already own any newspapers.

The addendum to the Communications Bill states: “Those newspaper transfers that potentially raise plurality concerns will require wider regulatory scrutiny in order to protect the additional public interest involved in such transfers.”

Or in plain English: “Pornographers and political extremists – or anyone else disliked by the government of the day – keep out!”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff