Richard Li

Li close to sealing deal on Economic Journal

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2006, 12:00am

PCCW chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai is likely to reach a final agreement on acquiring the full stake of Chinese financial daily Hong Kong Economic Journal by the end of this month, market sources say.

It is understood that Mr Li is in final talks with owner Lam Shan-muk and has only the terms and conditions - including the controversial code of practice for the editorial department - and legal documentation to complete in order to seal the deal.

'If the negotiations cannot be finalised this month, Mr Lam may approach other interested parties to complete the sale,' said an industry source yesterday.

Cho Chi-ming, a director and a 5 per cent stakeholder in the Journal, said last month there were four to five consortiums, including Mr Li, that had expressed an interest in the newspaper.

He said yesterday that Mr Li had the exclusive right to talk with Mr Lam until next month.

'It will all depend on fate whether I buy the Journal or not, since the transaction is not a one-sided matter,' said Mr Li after a PCCW Now Business News Channel launch ceremony yesterday, adding that he had no plans to launch a new Chinese financial daily if negotiations with the Journal fell through.

Market sources said both sides had reached an agreement on how much the deal would cost with Mr Li expected to pay between $250 million and $280 million, of which several million would be taken up with severance payments to the existing 200 staff. The actual price for the Journal is believed to be from $160 million to $180 million.

'Mr Li seems to have the idea of terminating the existing contracts with Journal staff and beginning again with new contracts once the deal is confirmed,' one market watcher said.

Public concern over the editorial independence of the Journal has meant that both sides in the negotiations have been hammering out the details of a newsroom code of practice to maintain the editorial direction of the publication.

Sources said the Journal's editorial policy would be overseen by a newly established independent committee which would include members of the public.

'The committee members will be appointed by Mr Li and Mr Lam respectively - all of them are highly respected people,' the source said. There are industry rumours that former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang is on the list.

The Journal's chief editor Chan King-cheung is likely to stay on at his post if the deal is concluded.

PCCW Now Broadband TV yesterday officially launched its self-produced Business News Channel, offering a six-month free trial to 140,000 selected users. The channel is normally charged at $30 per month. Now also launched a super-value pack, on an 18-month contract, at a monthly tariff of $388, featuring all 84 channels.