UK to ban foreign state ownership of newspapers

It follows concern about a potential takeover of the Daily Telegraph by a group backed by the UAE.
UK to ban foreign state ownership of newspapers
Daily TelegraphGetty Images

Foreign governments will be banned from owning UK newspapers and news magazines, the government has said.

The move follows concern about the potential takeover of the Daily Telegraph and Spectator by a group backed by the United Arab Emirates.

Labour has indicated it will back the change, which will be in an amendment to a new law being debated next week.

The government said the legislation would “deliver additional protections for a free press”.

It was forced to act after cross-party pressure and a threatened defeat in the House of Lords.

Media minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said the new law would “rule out newspaper and periodical news magazine mergers involving ownership, influence or control by foreign states”.

He said the government would bring forward an amendment to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which has its third reading next week, that would block such deals.

It could apply to the Telegraph Media Group takeover if the law was passed swiftly, Lord Parkinson suggested. He also confirmed the buyout ban would not apply to broadcasters.

Investment fund RedBird IMI, which is 75%-owned by Manchester City football club owner Sheikh Mansour, who is also deputy prime minister and vice president of the UAE, had hoped to take control of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, along with the Spectator magazine after paying off the debts of its previous owner.

But sources close to the matter have told the BBC’s Business Editor Simon Jack the bid looks likely to fail, amid growing political opposition.

The other bidders for the newspapers include hedge fund tycoon Sir Paul Marshall who owns GB News, Daily Mail owners DMGT, and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK.

Baroness Stowell, the chair of the Communications and Digital Committee and a former Conservative cabinet minister, has led cross-party calls to prevent foreign powers acquiring UK news media organisations.

She told peers: “We can’t ignore that public trust in news, Parliament and the political class has fallen significantly in recent years.

“Allowing foreign governments to own such a critical and sensitive part of our nation would damage public confidence in all of us yet further if it was allowed to happen.”

But an amendment tabled by the Tory peer to the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill was felt by both the government and Labour to be unworkable.

Lord Parkinson said the government hoped instead to make the change at a later stage of the bill.

Explaining how it might work, he said: “The secretary of state would be obliged to refer media merger cases to the Competition and Markets Authority through a new foreign state intervention notice where she has reasonable grounds to believe that a merger involving a UK newspaper or news magazine has given or would give a foreign state or body connected to a foreign state, ownership, influence or control.

“The Competition and Markets Authority would be obliged to investigate the possible merger and if it concludes that the merger has resulted or would result in foreign state ownership, influence or control over a newspaper enterprise the secretary of state would be required by statute to make an order blocking or unwinding the merger.”

Source: bbc.co.uk

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