Journalists at the Telegraph have expressed concerns over the newspapers’ future after an Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund was poised to take control of the titles.
An auction for the Telegraph newspapers and Spectator magazines was paused on Tuesday after RedBird IMI said it had agreed to provide loans to repay debts of more than £1bn owed by the publications’ previous owners, the Barclay family.
RedBird IMI has until 4 December to provide Lloyds Banking Group with the £1.16bn of funds which would allow it to take the titles out of receivership.
Redbird IMI’s chief executive, the former CNN boss Jeff Zucker, would run the business if the deal is approved.
However, MPs urged ministers to investigate the prospective deal, citing concerns over editorial freedom and national security if the Telegraph and Spectator, which are influential media assets in Conservative circles, are transferred to Gulf-based foreign owners.
Those concerns were shared by journalists at The Telegraph, with one newsroom source saying: “We don’t know what Abu Dhabi owners will mean for our foreign coverage and editorial independence.”
The uncertainty was echoed among the highest echelons.
A note to newsroom staff from Chris Evans, editor of The Daily Telegraph, read: “You’ve been asking me how we can be confident that editorial independence would be protected.
“At the moment I know no more than you will have read. For now, we must continue with our work.”
RedBird IMI, a joint venture between US firm RedBird Capital and International Media Investments of Abu Dhabi, said it was “entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications and believe that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility”.
Dame Caroline Dinenage, chair of the Commons media select committee, said: “The potential foreign state ownership of a British newspaper title raises important concerns.”
“While it is not for the Committee to review the details of this case, we will want to consider the wider implications about foreign state ownership of media, culture and sport institutions and will return to the issue shortly.”
More than half a dozen Conservative MPs have called for official investigations of the transaction.
Neil O’Brien, the MP for Harborough, called on ministers to issue a public interest intervention notice (PIIN), a government probe carried out by the media and competition watchdogs which can lead to deals being blocked.
Investment bank Goldman Sachs had kicked off an auction for the Telegraph, with prospective buyers including Sir Paul Marshall, the hedge fund owner and backer of GB News, newspaper group National World and Daily Mail publisher DMGT.
Lloyds has a fortnight to assess whether the repayment offer clears compliance hurdles.
The Barclay family has agreed to repay £1.16bn by 1 December, ahead of a liquidation court hearing in the British Virgin Islands into a key holding company, set to be held three days later if they fail to do so.
The auction process has been paused until the 4 December hearing, should it be required, the boards of the Telegraph and Spectator announced.
The Barclay family are not expected to contest the liquidation at the court meeting if they fail to meet this repayment deadline.
The Abu Dhabi deal would ultimately end the Barclay family’s involvement in the Telegraph papers.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport declined to comment.
i is owned by a separate DMGT group, Harmsworth Media, alongside New Scientist magazine, and has complete editorial independence.