UK weighs approval of Abu Dhabi-backed Telegraph newspaper buyout

UK weighs approval of Abu Dhabi-backed Telegraph newspaper buyout
100 members of the parliament signed a letter to the media secretary in a bid to stop the purchase from going through.
3 min read
There are currently two main bids for ownership of The Telegraph and The Spectator [Photo by Rob Pinney/Getty Images]

The UK government is weighing whether to approve a UAE-led takeover of the Daily Telegraph amid howls of protest from politicians, journalists and even a former spy chief that the deal risks press freedom.

Britain's competition and media regulators submitted reports on the takeover to the government on Monday. Media Secretary Lucy Frazer will now decide whether the purchase of the Telegraph and its sister title, the Spectator magazine, should go ahead.

The Abu Dhabi-backed buyout of the paper, which voices opinions from the governing Conservative Party, has provoked fears of foreign influence in news reporting which opponents say could threaten Britain's democracy.

The government, which for years has had an open approach to foreign takeovers, intervened in the deal led by investment group RedBird IMI and backed by UAE Vice President Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, ordering an investigation to assess its impact on freedom of expression and accuracy.

Frazer could block the deal outright, or order a longer investigation that could take months.

Around 100 lawmakers wrote a letter to Frazer ahead of the deadline for the regulators' reports.

"The free press is a key pillar of our democracy. If major newspaper and media organisations can be purchased by foreign governments, the freedom of the press in the UK has the potential to be seriously undermined," it said.

"This is a dangerous Rubicon we should not cross."

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UK's opposition Labour Party came out on Monday against the takeover.

Shadow culture secretary Thangam Debbonaire told The Spectator that the party's line “is that foreign governments should not own national newspapers. This is a bid by a foreign power, funded by the deputy prime minister of the UAE, and as such this bid should not pass”.

Sheikh Mansour heads a number of UEA sovereign wealth funds which hold British assets, and owns Premier League football club Manchester City.

There is no prohibition on foreigners owning British newspapers; The Telegraph's rival The Times has long been owned by Rupert Murdoch's US company.

But the prospect of a foreign government rather than individual owning the 160-year-old title has alarmed lawmakers.

The two publications are technically still owned by the Barclay family after RedBird IMI, led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker, helped pay back a 1.2 billion pound debt to Lloyds Bank to end a long-running dispute.

Telegraph columnists have voiced opposition to the takeover.


Spectator editor Fraser Nelson warned last month that the takeover would have big implications for the trustworthiness of news.

"I do not think any democracy in the world has seen one of its newspapers sold to a foreign authoritarian government," he said.

RedBird IMI, which plans to take control of the titles through a new English-registered company, has given repeated reassurances that it is "entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team" and that their editorial independence is "essential to protecting their reputation and credibility".