Ang to acquire Prieto stake in Inquirer, paper says

By Audrey Morallo Ramon-ANg-Eagle-Cement.jpgRamon Ang is in talks with the Prieto familty to acquire its stake in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. File

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 8:05 p.m.) — The Philippine Daily Inquirer announced on Monday that businessman Ramon Ang is in talks to acquire the Prieto family’s stake in the newspaper, which would hand the billionaire a foothold in the media industry.

In a statement, the Inquirer Group of Companies said that talks, which began in 2014, resumed early this year after the Prieto family completed its annual review of its business plans.

The decision of the Prieto family to divest after 25 years was a business decision it believes would “maximize group opportunities for the Inquirer Group,” the statement said.

At the conclusion of this deal, Ang is set to acquire all of the Prietos' 85 percent share in the newspaper although its final value will be determined after a "due diligence review" by Ang, Raul Palabrica, spokesperson of the Inquirer Group of Companies, told Philstar.com.

Ang, in a separate statement, said he has accepted the Prietos' offer to invest in the group and vowed to continue upholding “the highest journalistic standards” of the paper.

“I am looking forward to be part of this venerable institution and work with the men and women who made it what it is now. The publication will continue to uphold the highest journalistic standards and make a difference in the society it serves,” Ang also said.

The Inquirer has come under blistering criticism from President Rodrigo Duterte because of what the president claims is unfair coverage of his administration. Palabrica however said that this was not a factor in the decision of the Prieto family to sell its stake.

"[T]he decision of the Prieto family to enter into negotiations with Mr. Ramon Ang is based on business considerations and had nothing to do with the tirades of the President," he said.

In March this year, Duterte gave an expletive-laced speech against the Inquirer and ABS-CBN television due to their alleged propensity to lie and distort his statements.

He accused the newspaper of cherry-picking and twisting his statements to make his war on drugs appear like a war on the poor.

The president angrily said that time, “Tingnan mo yung Inquirer. Ang sinasabi ko sila ang may sabi na pinapatay ko raw ang mahihirap. Alam mo ang Inquirer kahapon, talagang ... Basura talaga yan pati yung eleksyon. ‘The poor will be killed.’ Tingnan mo kung mag-slant.”

In April, the president cited a Commission on Audit Report and identified a supposed son-in-law of the Prietos, who allegedly used government funds for personal travel. An online search however showed that the person named by Duterte was not a son-in-law of the Prietos.

Duterte also vowed to reacquire within six months the Mile Long property in Makati owned by the Rufinos who are connected to the Prietos through marriage.  The Inquirer group itself is not connected to the Mile Long property issue.

"I assure you, after all of these things here, I will start to recover what is government’s property, including ‘that Inquirer. The loudest, one of the loudest of it all," the president said.

The chief executive also accused the paper of a being a fake crusader and crony and claimed that the Prietos had a P1.5-billion tax deficiency.

The Inquirer said in its statement that the Prietos and Ang have been longtime partners and friends, adding that it is confident that the businessman would uphold the media outfit’s “commitment to pursuing the highest standards of journalism.”

The acquisition will provide Ang a foothold in the media industry, two years after his buy-in deal with GMA television failed.

“His investments and business expertise will unlock added value in the Inquirer Group’s newspaper publication, internet communications, social media, corporate skills training, radio broadcasting and logistics delivery,” the statement read.

The group also assured its employees that all existing contracts would remain in effect.

The Inquirer, one of the most widely-read broadsheets in the Philippines, was founded in 1985 during the dying days of the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

During the incumbency of former President Joseph Estrada, his friends orchestrated an advertisement boycott of the newspaper for its hard-hitting coverage of his administration.

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