OPINION: Hollinger story cannot be restricted to US

Hollinger, Lord Black's former media empire, seems to have added short-sightedness to its growing list of ailments. In fact, there is now uncertainty over whether its vision extends as far as London.

Only this weekend, Black claimed that the decision to sell his stake in Hollinger Inc, and as a result his controlling interest in the parent company of The Daily Telegraph, Hollinger International, would leave the field free for it to deal with public relations issues. Which makes all the more inexplicable the decision to dispense with its non-US PR adviser Bell Pottinger last week.

Apparently Hollinger executives are under the impression that the story is now an American one, which doesn't require any representation in the UK.

Instead, in a bid to minimise coverage, a principal of New York-based crisis management firm Kekst & Co will be acting as a spokesperson in both the US and the UK.

The logic seemingly goes that as Hollinger Inc is New York-listed - and the investigation is being carried out by US regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission - it can't possibly be of interest on the other side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately, such logic belongs to a bygone era.

There is no such thing as 'just a US story' any more. The number of international and UK investors with a stake in US-listed companies, and the ever-increasing demands for more regular and simultaneous international disclosure, make sure of that. Not to mention the raft of instantaneous communication tools now available, which mean a story that breaks in the US will be on screens around the world in minutes, if not seconds. The idea that you can prevent this process simply by refraining from comment is a triumph of self-denial over realism.

There is no doubting the considerable abilities of Kekst & Co, but it is easy to underestimate the incestuousness of UK media and the glee of UK journalists at the troubles afflicting Black's former fiefdom.

The prospect of the Telegraph falling into the hands of Asian Babes publisher Richard Desmond or Mohammed Al Fayed has already had UK media commentators salivating, and the move by the reclusive Barclay Brothers over the weekend to take a controlling stake in Hollinger International only serves to lob the story back into the UK journalists' court once again.

So it is all the more unfortunate for Lord Bell that, ironically, while the Barclay Brothers have tended to use Bell Pottinger for media relations, on this occasion the consultancy's relationship with Hollinger was perceived to present too great a conflict of interest, so the Barclays are using Brunswick. Ouch.

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