Skip to content
Home » A Political Battleground for ‘Press Freedom’

A Political Battleground for ‘Press Freedom’

The matter of press freedom seldom gets so much attention as when the ownership of the “Torygraph” hangs in the balance. The Telegraph group’s change of ownership, initially seen as a financial transaction, has now evolved into a political battleground.

The tussle for control of the Telegraph newspaper, colloquially known as the Torygraph due to its historical ties with the Conservative Party, was brought to some form of conclusion on Monday, 4 December, in a deal that will ultimately – if allowed by the government – put the title under the control of a consortium backed by the United Arab Emirates. The consortium is run by Jeff Zucker, the former president of CNN.

A new board of independent directors

Breaking the news of the deal on Monday, ITV’s political editor Robert Peston tweeted on X: “An amazing event will happen today. Lloyds will get back the £1.2bn they lent the Barclay brothers to finance their ownership of the Telegraph, the Spectator (magazine) and other assets. Lloyds, which only ever expected to be repaid £500m (the written-down value of the debt), will get all its money back and will terminate its long relationship with the Barclays. It means the Telegraph now has a bizarre status. The Barclays brothers are – in a technical sense – the owners again, though governance sits with a new board of independent directors. But the owners in a fundamental economic sense are Red Bird IMI and its Abu Dhabi partners – because they are providing all the £1.2bn, which will be transferred out of escrow.”

Shortly after Noon the deal was confirmed by Sky News reporter Mark Kleinman, who said Lloyds Bank has received the 1.2 billion pounds ($1.52 billion) it was owed by the Barclay family, “meaning the bank will play no further role in determining the ownership of the Telegraph newspaper.” 

The Guardian reports the first part of the deal involves the repayment of the debt by RedBird IMI, a joint venture between the US company RedBird Capital and International Media Investments (IMI) of Abu Dhabi, the investment vehicle for the UAE vice-president Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, best known in the UK for his ownership of Manchester City football club. It is part of a two-stage arrangement to control the future ownership of the titles, which were seized by Lloyds bank in June after the family failed to repay £1.16bn in debts.

Less than a week earlier, former Cabinet minister David Davis called for the sale to be blocked by the government because once it was approved they would be able “to do nothing to protect” the title’s independence. 

Quoted by Nick Gutteridge of the Telegraph, Davis, the former Brexit Secretary, said the Telegraph’s “massive influence” during general elections and Conservative leadership contests means it should not be foreign-owned.

Public Interest Intervention Notice

Davis made the remarks three days after Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, triggered a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) into the sale. Davis urged Frazer to go further by halting the planned takeover. He said: “I just think it’s wrong. We shouldn’t normally, in my view, allow people who are outside the reach of our country to own major newspapers. The Telegraph is one of the most important newspapers in the country. It has massive influence both at elections and on people’s general views. And indeed, when there are Tory party leadership contests, as may happen in the next few years, then they have a massive influence there too. Why should we give that power to the Emirates? In this case, a country which, in the past, has not exactly treated press freedom with any sort of respect.”

Last week the BBC reported Frazer did not feel it appropriate to intervene in a debt repayment transaction. However, she has 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.

Need for accurate presentation of news and free expression

Frazer said she issued the PIIN because of “concerns about the sale of the Telegraph Media Group, which owns the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, and it warrants further investigation”. The deal has also 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.

The CMA and Ofcom have been asked to report back by 26 January 2024. 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. In the interim, the  PIIN prohibits the removal or transfer of key Daily Telegraph journalists, Sky News reported.

Should Frazer determine that the consortium backed by Abu Dhabi is an “unsuitable owner” of the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph, Red Bird could be forced to put them up for auction.

Network of personal connections and shared ideologies

A senior editor at the Telegraph said she was confident that the British government would move to block the deal because of the concerns about freedom of expression. “We can trust that they will come up with the right conclusions because it is obvious to all of us that a newspaper owned by a Gulf state will face questions surrounding freedom of expression,” Telegraph Associate Editor Camilla Tominey wrote in a column in the newspaper.

Several other Tory backbenchers also expressed unease over the bid for ownership of the newspapers and magazine. Lord (Charles) Moore, a former editor of all three titles, made an urgent plea on the radio and in an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph, arguing a media purchase of such significance by a Gulf state would be “dangerous”.

The Telegraph’s historical alignment with the Conservative Party is not in dispute. It transcends mere editorial preferences, constituting a network of personal connections and shared ideologies, marked by longstanding close ties between the newspaper’s editors and the party’s leadership.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: Content is protected !!