Late St Patrick’s day takeover of the Belfast Telegraph?

Speculation is rife about exactly if/when ownership of Independent News and Media UK finally passes to Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev. Robert Peston believes the deal is imminent later today or tomorrow. But not a word about the implications for stablemate the Belfast Telegraph, which has been the nearest thing the Indy had to a cash cow for years. Media guru Roy Greenslade covers the history of the tortuous negotiations but has no fresh information to add. The whole business is about as transparent as Belfast sleech and a far cry from the cross border, cross channel idealism of the old tycoon Tony O’Reilly. Meanwhile the rest of the Belfast media stays silent. Cowed perhaps by the freemasonry of their own nervous owners?

Lebedev picked up the ailing London Evening Standard for £2 and adopted the bold strategy of turning it into a single edition, late evening freesheet. That may work for the captive Tube readership and may even be on the cards for the Indy at least in London and other big metro centres. The name of the game seems to be to abandon nationwide circulation, in favour restricting it to big city concentration with lower costs. As for the Bel Tel, it seems to be part of the goody bag for Lebedev’s son Evgeny. I’m sure they’ll appreciate that in Larne. For the Lebedevs you can see the fun in the Standard gamble but the appeal of the Bel Tel may elude them. In the medium term it all seems terribly precarious, even though when I last heard, the paper was still making money despite its gently falling circulation. I wouldn’t be surprised of Lebedev’s ownership of the Belfast Telegraph was a short term fix with an sale-on to another buyer. But to whom?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London