Government announces second probe of Telegraph sale

Government announces second probe of Telegraph sale
The Daily Telegraph newspaperGetty Images

The culture secretary has announced that the government will start a fresh inquiry into the UAE-backed bid for the Telegraph.

It comes after the bidder RedBird IMI changed the structure of its bid at short notice, saying the ownership of the new holding company would now reside in the UK.

The government originally opened investigation of the bid in December.

It has cited concerns over the “need for accurate presentation of news”.

The inquiry will also look into the deal’s impact on the “free expression of opinion in newspapers”, culture secretary Lucy Frazer said.

RedBird IMI’s changes were disclosed just days before the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and communications regulator Ofcom were due to submit their review of the original deal to take over the Telegraph and its sister title, the Spectator.

In a statement earlier this week, warning that she was considering issuing a new PIIN (Public Interest Intervention Notice), Ms Frazer said that the last minute changes were not “conducive to the full and proper functioning of the process”.

Ms Frazer said the CMA and Ofcom have to make their new report by 11 March.

RedBird IMI is backed by Emirati royal and Manchester City football club owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who said the tweak to the corporate structure was to clarify that it would have no management or editorial involvement “whatsoever in the title”.

Under the new plan, the publications will now be owned by a new registered company in England, of which RedBird IMI, led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker, is a limited partner. In an interview with the BBC in January, Mr Zucker said journalists will be given total editorial freedom.

But there have been concerns from MPs, many of the Telegraph’s current and former journalists, and its readership that the newspaper might fall under the control of an authoritarian foreign state.

The culture and media secretary also cited concerns around public interest when she intervened in December to scrutinise the sale.

The Telegraph and the Spectator magazine were put up for sale last year when they were seized by Lloyds Banking Group from long-time owners the Barclay family, which had failed to pay back a loan of more than £1bn.

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By David Ryckman