NEWSCOM, which owns the Southern Daily Echo, is recommending shareholders to accept an offer from Gannett UK for its shares which values the company at £444 million.

The recommended cash offer values each NEWSCOM share at 1800p, a 76.9 per cent premium to the closing price of the shares on December 9 1999, the day before Gannett announced it was interested in making an offer for NEWSCOM.

Gannett has received irrevocable undertaking from all the directors of NEWSCOM and certain other connected individuals as well as instititions representing approximately 15.65 per cent of NEWSCOM's issued ordinary share capital.

The offer is subject to the acceptance of NEWSCOM shareholders.

NEWSCOM is the UK's eighth largest regional newspaper publisher with 112 titles and a weekly circulation/distribution of approximately 2.7 million copies. The group also has interests in leaflet distribution, magazine contract printing, magazine publishing and electronic publishing.

Gannett UK owns Newsquest, the UK's third largest regional newspaper publisher with 186 titles including 11 daily newspapers. Its American parent company, Gannett, is an international news and information company which publishes 74 daily newspapers in the US, including USA Today, and a variety of non-daily publications. It also owns and operates 22 television stations.

Announcing the offer, Douglas H McCorkindale, president of Gannett, said: "We are extremely pleased that NEWSCOM will become part of Gannett.

"NEWSCOM's publications provide a significant opportunity to expand and strengthen our operations in the UK. The management and employees of NEWSCOM share our commitment to serve the readers and advertisers in the communities in which each do business."

James Brown, executive chairman of Newsquest, added: "NEWSCOM is a fine company with a great history and we are very pleased that it now joins our newspapers."

John Salkeld, chairman of NEWSCOM, said the board believed the continued implementation of the group's strategy could be most effectively carried out as part of the larger Gannett group.

"We believe that the offer from Gannett fairly reflects the value and prospects of the NEWSCOM group and provides an attractive means by which NEWSCOM shareholders may realise their investment," he added.

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