MediaGuardian commentator Roy Greenslade poses this question today about Alexander Lebedev, the billionaire and former KGB agent, who is said to be about to buy a majority stake in the London Evening Standard.
He points out that the "fit-and-proper-person" test is no longer relevant. It was part of now defunct competition law and there is no regulatory requirement to consider the merits and demerits of individuals who wish to acquire papers.
After a good run through of the various profiles of Lebedev in the nationals (there is a particularly flattering one in The Independent, which is also said to be a target of the former KGB man), Roy says "the general consensus from commentators is that Lebedev would pass muster" if the old "fit and proper" test was still applied.
He says he can see why offloading the Standard is a good deal for the Daily Mail & General Trust but asks: "What's in it for Lebedev? Why buy a paper selling so few copies and losing so much money? It is, as Winston Churchill once remarked of the Soviet Union, 'a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.' "
Maybe Lebedev just likes the idea of owning a newspaper. It's fun, like owning a football club, but you need deep pockets.
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