Government intervenes in UAE bid to buy Telegraph – BBC News

  • By Simon Jack
  • Business editor

Image source, Getty Images

The culture and media secretary has intervened to scrutinise the sale of the Daily Telegraph to a company backed by the Abu Dhabi ruling family over concerns around public interest.

The title was taken over by Lloyds Bank as it sought to recover £1.1bn owed by the owners, the Barclay family.

An Abu Dhabi-backed firm this month agreed to pay the sum and take control.

It was understood that after the debt was paid to Lloyds, the paper would be passed on swiftly to the new owners.

Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, best known in the UK for his ownership of Manchester City football club, has thrown his considerable financial heft behind RedBird IMI, the investment consortium looking to take control of the Telegraph and the Spectator magazine.

The consortium is run by Jeff Zucker, the former president of CNN.

As the BBC reported on Wednesday, the Secretary of State, Lucy Frazer, did not feel it appropriate to intervene in a debt repayment transaction.

However, as she has previously indicated and now confirmed, the transfer of the politically important Telegraph to what is essentially a foreign power is a matter the UK government and other regulators need to scrutinise.

Ms Frazer has now issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) because of concerns that she had about the sale of the Telegraph Media Group, which owns the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, that warrant further investigation.

The deal has been referred to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which will look at jurisdictional and competition matters, and the media regulator Ofcom, which will look at “the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers”, she said.

Both the CMA and Ofcom have been asked to report back by 26 January 2024.

On Friday, Ofcom said it was inviting written submissions to be sent by 13 December.

The government’s PIIN order does not apply to the sale of the Spectator.

Jeff Zucker is a very experienced news chief and has hit back at any suggestion that the editorial independence of the Daily Telegraph, the Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator would be compromised by Gulf ownership.

But former editors, senior politicians and grassroots Conservatives have voiced grave concerns about the deal.

Simply put, the Barclay family, who have twisted and turned for many years from Lloyds to preserve their ownership of the Telegraph, have now replaced their Lloyds debt with a debt to the Abu Dhabi royal family.

Lionel Barber, the former editor of the FT, has pointed out that the UK has allowed a convicted fraudster, Conrad Black, to own the Telegraph and the son of a former KGB agent, Evgeny Lebedev, to own the Independent and the Evening Standard.

But former Telegraph editor Charles Moore insists that the nature of those involved here – a foreign state alongside a Tory-leaning paper – makes these circumstances different.

Sheikh Mansour is taking a financial risk in wiring the money to Lloyds when it is unclear whether he will ever get to take control of the assets he is paying for, but as someone close to the deal said, that seems to be “a risk he’s willing to take”.

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