The company behind the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday has bought rival the i for £49.6 million – its fourth owner in as many years, it was announced.
Lord Rothermere, who is chairman and biggest shareholder in Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), said the deal would not lead to a change in editorial style and the i will remain independent.
But the decision was attacked by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, suggesting the new owner could influence the newspaper’s a-political position to “attack Labour’s plan to make the super-rich pay their fair share”.
The billionaire owner of the Daily Mail, the Viscount Rothermere, has bought @theipaper.
Two billionaire press barons now own half of the top 10 daily newspapers.
Remember this when they attack Labour's plan to make the super-rich pay their fair share.
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) November 29, 2019
The owner insisted editorial independence will remain. Lord Rothermere said: “(The i) is a highly respected publication with a loyal and engaged readership.
“We are committed to preserving its distinctive, high-quality and politically independent editorial style.
“The business will benefit from DMGT’s long-term approach and commitment to investing in editorial content.”
The chairman, who is the great-grandson of the Daily Mail’s founder, added he sees good opportunities to develop the i’s website, and believes the newspaper will be a “strong cash generator” for the group.
He pointed out that the i sells around 170,000 copies each weekday and 190,000 copies on Saturdays. In 2018, revenues were £34 million with £11 million in “cash operating income and operating profit”.
However, the deal is expected to be looked at by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for any potential breaches of competition laws.
The i and DMGT’s newspaper operations are already based in the same Northcliffe House offices in Kensington, west London, and share some facilities and systems.
Bosses insist they do not expect to make any redundancies and the newspaper has been on a recent hiring spree, with an editorial floor of around 80 journalists.
Very grateful to former owners JPIMedia (as well as Johnston Press and before 2016 ESI Media) for their courage, imagination and support, transforming a start-up into a highly trusted UK media publisher that also turns a profit and has a healthy, sustainable future
— Oly Duff (@olyduff) November 29, 2019
Editor Oly Duff said on his Twitter feed: “Very grateful to former owners JPIMedia (as well as Johnston Press and before 2016 ESI Media) for their courage, imagination and support, transforming a start-up into a highly trusted UK media publisher that also turns a profit and has a healthy, sustainable future.”
He added that there will be “no change to staff employment T&Cs, pay, roles, editors”. The boss also attempted to reassure readers that editorial independence would remain.
Should the CMA investigate the deal, which is expected, Mr Duff added that the i will be “held separate” from new and old owners.
Paul Zwillenberg, chief executive of DMGT, added: “The i has a different editorial style and tone to the Mail and the audience has a different demographic. I want to make absolutely clear that we will ensure that the editorial independence of the i is preserved.
“Delivering quality content in both print and digital formats is a core competence of DMGT. We will invest in the editorial content as we believe the i can benefit from DMGT’s long-term approach to investing through the cycle to support market share gains.”
Following Mr Corbyn’s comments, Mr Duff wrote on Twitter: “Dear Jeremy, We were comfortable holding you to account when you were an i reader (still are? not sure) and we will continue to do so!
“Every leader of every other political party can expect the same – since we report on politics without fear or favour. It’s why our readers trust us. They judge us on our journalism. Hopefully you will welcome the same scrutiny.
“And on a point of fact we haven’t actually attacked Labour’s plan to make the highest earners pay more tax… We remain editorially independent, politically impartial. Best – Oly”