Telegraph newspaper is up for sale again

The Daily and Sunday Telegraph newspapers are back for sale after a deal involving an Abu Dhabi-backed consortium to take over the titles fell through. The ownership was to be transferred to the RedBird IMI group, backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, owner of Manchester City Football Club and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, after government scrutiny and new legislation banning foreign states from owning UK newspapers and news magazines, the deal has collapsed.

RedBird said it would cease its takeover attempt and proceed with selling the media assets to another buyer. The firm noted that its plans had become “no longer feasible” and it would now seek the “best value” for the Telegraph and the Spectator magazine. The group also assured that the independent directors overseeing the Telegraph and the Spectator since last summer would continue to manage the titles until the sale process concluded.

The deal’s collapse followed concerns raised by MPs, current and former Telegraph journalists, and readers, worried about the potential influence of an authoritarian foreign state on a major UK newspaper. Given these concerns, the government stepped in and began reviewing the deal in January. Subsequently, legislation was proposed to ban foreign governments from owning UK newspapers and news magazines, a move aimed at safeguarding a free press and accurate news reporting.

Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer expressed concern about how the deal might impact freedom of expression and accurate news presentation. Despite this, RedBird claimed its ownership plan would have implemented the “strongest editorial protections” ever for a UK newspaper, alongside significant investments. However, the firm acknowledged that under the new legislation, its proposed takeover of the Telegraph and Spectator was no longer possible.

The uncertainty surrounding the sale process has caused frustration. Andrew Neil, chairman of the Spectator, described the situation as “limboland,” suggesting the magazine has been in this state for almost a year. The newspapers were originally put up for sale last year after Lloyds Banking Group seized them from the Barclay family, the previous long-term owners, for failing to repay over £1 billion in loans. Though the Barclay family eventually settled their debt with funds from Sheikh Mansour, the deal could not proceed due to the government’s intervention.

RedBird mentioned it held £600 million in debt related to the titles. Gulf states have been prominent investors in the UK, contributing significantly to various industries such as ports, housing, windfarms, and science parks. They are also being considered for investment in a new nuclear power plant at Sizewell in Suffolk.

With RedBird’s exit, it’s unclear who might acquire the Telegraph and the Spectator. Potential bidders could include hedge fund tycoon Sir Paul Marshall, owner of GB News; Daily Mail owners DMGT; and Rupert Murdoch’s News UK. The outcome of the new sale process remains uncertain as various stakeholders contemplate the future of these iconic British newspapers.

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