Culture Secretary Steps in After Tory MPs Call for Telegraph Sale to Be Paused

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice in response to the proposed takeover of the group which owns the Daily Telegraph.
Culture Secretary Steps in After Tory MPs Call for Telegraph Sale to Be Paused
A woman reads a copy of The Daily Telegraph newspaper in London, on May 21, 2009. (Leon Neal/AFP via Getty Images)
Chris Summers
12/1/2023
Updated:
12/1/2023
0:00

The culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, has stepped in amid concerns about the proposed sale of the Daily Telegraph and its sister titles to a venture partly financed by the vice president of the United Arab Emirates.

RedBird IMI—a joint venture with an investment fund owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice president of the UAE, and owner of Manchester City Football Club—has agreed to buy the Telegraph Media Group in a deal which would pay off a debt of around £1 billion which the Barclay family owes to Lloyds.

Ms. Frazer triggered a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) under section 42(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 a week after she wrote to RedBird IMI, saying she was “minded to” intervene.

It comes after 18 Tory backbenchers wrote a letter to the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, urging him to act and claiming the sale was a “potential national security threat.”

The letter, co-signed by the former Tory Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Alicia Kearns, said the UAE had, “increasingly close relations with China.”

The authors of the letter said the fact the UAE was, “strengthening its relationship with Beijing at a time of growing tensions is even more troubling.”

RedBird IMI is a joint venture between U.S. firm RedBird Capital and International Media Investments (IMI) of Abu Dhabi.

As a result of the PIIN, Ms. Frazer has told communications regulator Ofcom to investigate the sale’s impact on the “accurate presentation of news and freedom of expression” in the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and stablemate The Spectator magazine.

‘Evidence of Past Behaviour’

In Ofcom’s document, it says: “Statutory guidance on this ground notes that the impact of a relevant merger situation on accurate presentation of the news is likely to be assessed by reference to evidence of past behaviour by the enterprises in question, or by the persons with control of such enterprises, in relation to that or other enterprises, including but not limited to newspapers.”

In a statement, Ms. Frazer said, “My role as the secretary of state in this process is quasi-judicial and procedures are in place to ensure that I act independently and follow a process which is scrupulously fair, transparent and impartial.”

Several rival media outlets highlighted potential issues with the sale, including The Times, which suggested Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, described as UAE’s “censor-in-chief,” would play a key role in the management of the Telegraph because of his role at IMI.

The Times also quoted several journalists who worked for The National, a paper financially backed by Sheikh Mansour, who claimed the initial editorial freedom they were given when it was launched in 2008 was gradually eroded and articles which were critical of the UAE government were dropped.

Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have until Jan. 26, 2024, to report back to Ms. Frazer.

RedBird IMI Says Concerns ‘Misplaced’

On Tuesday, Jeff Zucker, the former head of U.S. broadcaster CNN who is heading the RedBird IMI investment fund, said concerns over the takeover were “misplaced.”
“I understand why people have raised questions. All I can say is, they’re misplaced. I am here to say that the editorial independence of The Telegraph is guaranteed,” he said in an interview with the newspaper.

Mr. Zucker went on to say he would resign if Abu Dhabi tried to intervene in any of the media outlets’ editorial lines.

Responding to the PIIN, a spokesman for RedBird IMI said, “We welcome the opportunity to provide the government with the information needed to scrutinise our deal, and we will continue to co-operate fully with the government and regulator throughout this process.”

“RedBird IMI remains entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications and believes that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility,” he added.

PA Media contributed to this report. 
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.