The Memo: Daily Telegraph up for sale after UK law prohibits foreign state ownership of newspapers

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Daily Telegraph up for sale after UK law prohibits foreign state ownership of newspapers

James Westmacott - 3 June 2024

When leading British broadsheet newspapers, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, were put on the market back in March, invitations for opulent bids were welcomed. One such biddercertainly not lacking in funds – might be a name familiar to many within the UK: Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan al-NahyanWait, what? Who? Known colloquially as Sheikh Mansour, the Emirati royal is most recognisable for his ownership of Premier League football club Manchester City. Having recently won its fourth domestic title in a row whilst facing charges of 115 alleged financial breaches, critics suggest that Mansour is also the man masterminding an unprecedented sportswashing regime. With heavy property investments throughout the UK in cities such as London and Manchester, Mansour also has financial investments in global companies like Virgin Galactic, Daimler, and Barclays. Oh, and he’s also the vice-president and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a nation facing accusations from both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. 

Whilst that all makes for pretty grim reading, the idea that states like the UAE could have such undue influence over the UK press was also highly concerning. That was until the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill was brought into parliament, officially outlawing ownership, influence, or control of British newspapers or magazine periodicals by foreign states. To make things in this particular case even more confusing, the law was passed amid Mansour’s planned takeover of The Telegraph, forcing him and his investor team to change tack due to what would have been a form of state ownership now suddenly becoming illegal. The notion of such heavy political influence in domestic newspapers has long been controversial, not least due to the drastic decline in public trust of newspapers and the political class more generally. Inspired by plummeting confidence in such institutions, Baroness Stowellchair of the Communications and Digital Committeehas led calls to implement such legislation banning state influence from abroad.  

In an attempt to circumvent this sudden change in UK law, the ownership of the papers was to be tactically transferred to the RedBird IMI consortium, an American investment management firm, which would join forces with Mansour and propose a new bid. Whilst Mansour still technically represented a state, it was thought that the addition of an independent company would naturally soften the state influence offered by the proposed takeover. However, the sale has now fallen through, with concerns over public interest still rising to the fore despite the updated bid. At the time of writing, The Telegraph remains up for sale following the collapse of the aforementioned takeover, with investors waiting patiently and biding their time before delivering the sucker punch. It’s reported that other potential bidders for the paper have included the likes of Lord Rothermere, current chairman of the Daily Mail, and GB News shareholder Sir Paul Marshall.