News mouthpiece warns potential buyers off AAP

Potential purchasers of Australian Associated Press are being warned off a possible deal by media controlled by client and shareholder News Corp Australia.

Reporting that the newsagency were "in talks with several parties" which had expressed an interest in buying the business, Leo Shanahan, media editor of News-owned national daily The Australian cautions a new owner would have to do without the business of its two biggest clients - and current majority shareholders - News and Nine Entertainment.

He suggests a new owner would have to offer "an extremely competitive commercial deal" to win them back. Shanahan says that with 60 per cent of AAP's revenue currently coming from News and Nine, "around $20 million would added to the cost base of the business" without them.

Chairman of AAP is Campbell Reid, a former News Corp editor and general manager who now heads the company's Australian corporate affairs, policy and government relations teams.

In its report, The Australian says the unidentified potential buyers "could represent wealthy private family interests". AAP chief executive Bruce Davidson told staff that neither management, the board or its shareholders had expected the approach.

There has been considerable community backlash - particularly on social media - at the decision to close AAP's news agency business in June, and Davidson says the redundancy timetable has been paused so that interest could be qualified.

It is understood editorial staff had been given finishing dates varying between March 27-June 26.

News - which is expected to expand its own internal news and content resource following the closure - and Nine were looking to hire journalists made redundant.

AAP had said earlier its "profitable" Pagemasters sub-editing business and Medianet - which like Warren Buffett's BusinessWire, makes money from issuing press releases on behalf of clients - were being offered for sale.

The sale process is being managed by corporate advisory TMT Partners, and The Australian says there is a 14-21 day timetable "to complete information sharing".

Davidson apologised to staff for the increased uncertainty caused.

• Roy Morgan Research has identified itself as one of the interested parties, with chief executive Michele Levine quoted by AdNews saying, "Absolutely I'm interested. "AAP is a fantastic business and, yes, we are very interested in looking at what we can do with it."

Elsewhere, executive chairman Gary Morgan told The Australian a deal to buy the whole business would be conditional on the wire service being a "viable business proposition". AAP would have to be "a very different company," he said.

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