By Paul Sandle and Muvija M
LONDON (Reuters) – British media minister Lucy Frazer said on Wednesday she was “minded to” intervene in a deal that could see Abu Dhabi-backed RedBird IMI take control of the Daily Telegraph, saying she had concerns about the newspaper’s independence.
The right-leaning title and Spectator magazine, favourites of politicians in the leading Conservative Party, are being sold after Lloyds Banking Group in June seized control following a long-running dispute with former owners the Barclay family.
But the sale was paused on Monday until Dec. 4, to give Lloyds Banking Group time to secure a 1.2 billion pound ($1.50 billion) debt repayment plan put forward by the Barclays, backed by Redbird IMI.
Under the plan, RedBird IMI, which is led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker, could end up owning the titles through a debt-for-equity swap. The government said it understood that RedBird IMI intended to exercise the option at the “earliest opportunity”.
Frazer said she had written to Lloyds, the Barclay family and RedBird to inform them of the possible public interest intervention notice.
The government told RedBird in the letter that the minister was concerned about the potential for it to influence the Telegraph’s operations, including editorial operations.
“She is aware that RedBird IMI have links to media organisations that have been critiqued for partisan views and therefore believes there may be an impact on the plurality of views of newspapers in the UK, if RedBird IMI gain influence over TMG,” the letter said.
Abu Dhabi’s IMI (International Media Investments) says it is building a portfolio of media assets across the world, with brands including CNN Business Arabic and interests in Sky News Arabia and Euronews.
Frazer will consider representations from the companies sent by Thursday afternoon before deciding to intervene, the letter added.
RedBird IMI confirmed it had received the letter.
“If we gain ownership of the Telegraph and Spectator we will be fully committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the publications and believe that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility,” a spokesperson said it would restate in further representations.
Groups that have confirmed interest, or have been reported to be interested in the sale, include Daily Mail owner DMGT, Belgium publisher Mediahuis, National World, hedge fund founder Paul Marshall and Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky.
($1 = 0.8025 pounds)
(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Muvia M; Editing by Jan Harvey and Elaine Hardcastle)