Britain intervenes to refer Abu Dhabi-backed Telegraph deal to regulators

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain will intervene in the acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group by Abu Dhabi-backed RedBird IMI on public interest grounds, with regulators on Thursday asked to examine the deal’s impact on accuracy and freedom of expression.

The right-leaning Daily Telegraph broadsheet and Spectator magazine, favourites of politicians in the ruling Conservative Party, are being sold after Lloyds Banking Group in June seized control following a long-running dispute with owners, the Barclay family.

The Barclays have teamed up with RedBird IMI, which is led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker, in a bid to repay a 1.2 billion pound ($1.5 billion) debt. The plan would hand control of the titles to RedBird IMI through a debt-for-equity swap.

IMI (International Media Investments) is backed by Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, a member of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi and the owner of Manchester City soccer club.

The sale had been paused until a court hearing scheduled for Dec. 4 to give the consortium time to repay the debt.

Last week, the British government told RedBird IMI in a letter that media minister Lucy Frazer was concerned about its potential to influence the Telegraph’s operations.

On Thursday, Frazer said: “My department has today written to the Barclay family and RedBird IMI, the current and proposed owners of Telegraph Media Group, to inform them that I will be issuing a Public Interest Intervention Notice.”

Frazer added that as a result, Britain’s Competition Markets Authority (CMA) and media regulator Ofcom would examine the deal, looking at “the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers”.

“I have asked both the CMA and Ofcom to report back to me by 26 January 2024,” Frazer said.

RedBird IMI said that it welcomed “the opportunity to provide the government with the information needed to scrutinise our deal, and we will continue to cooperate fully with the government and regulator throughout this process.”

“RedBird IMI remains entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications and believes that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility,” it said in a statement.

The Telegraph Media Group did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

($1 = 0.7925 pounds)

(Reporting by Alistair Smout and Paul Sandle, Editing by Kate Holton, Michael Holden, Elaine Hardcastle and Daniel Wallis)