As published in the Telegraph
The Telegraph is one of the most important and respected newspapers in the country. For a great many people across the UK, it is the first thing they look at in the morning and where they get their daily feed of news. As such, what is printed in these pages can have a massive influence during elections and more generally on the centre-Right of politics in the UK.
Right now, a complex battle is taking place to secure control of this paper, its Sunday sister title, and The Spectator, the world’s oldest surviving weekly magazine.
On the face of it, the Barclay family has returned to the helm. But they have done so with the support of RedBird IMI – a joint investment vehicle between RedBird Capital Partners and International Media Investments (IMI).
The public statement from RedBird IMI states that it “has an option” to convert a huge loan to the Barclay family, secured in part against the papers, into equity, and “intends to exercise this option at an early opportunity”.
This is a de-facto equity investment, not a simple loan. This has rightly got the Government worried, and the proposed takeover is currently subject to an investigation after a Public Interest Intervention Notice was issued.
IMI is backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sheikh Mansour, best known on these shores as the fabulously wealthy owner of Manchester City FC, is also the vice-president and deputy prime minister of the UAE.
This raises concerns about the motive behind RedBird IMI’s interest in acquiring the publications. The Telegraph is a profitable business, but this is unlikely to be about money. The question must be asked: what does Sheikh Mansour stand to gain from buying The Telegraph?
The fear must be that the Emiratis are seeking to buy political influence, or soft power. It would fit a trend: IMI is already a prolific investor in news outlets across the world, including The National, Sky News Arabia and Euronews.
Assurances that The Telegraph’s editorial independence will be protected have been provided, but what guarantees are there that these will be respected? There may not be anything that could be done about it if they are not.
This is a serious concern. The UAE is an authoritarian regime with a pretty dismal human-rights record. Its leaders are not fit to preside over our media. And do not think for a minute that it does not have an interest in influencing British politics.
The Telegraph has a fine history of investigative reporting and of breaking news stories that have real impact. From breaking the news of the outbreak of the Second World War, through to exposing the MPs’ expenses scandal, and the publication of more than 100,000 pandemic-related WhatsApp messages, it is a fearless crusader for honesty and truth in politics – more or less the opposite of what the leadership of the UAE represent.
Similarly, The Spectator makes an absolutely crucial contribution to political journalism and debate in the UK and overseas, boasting some of the finest columnists around.
The takeover of these titles should worry everyone – not just those on the Right. It should not be normal for a ranking member of a foreign government to be buying overseas press outlets.
The Government was quite correct to issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice last week. It must now go further and block the sale of such a venerable publication to a foreign power.