The Culture Secretary has made a fresh intervention in the proposed takeover of the Telegraph Media Group (TMG) by an Abu Dhabi-backed fund.
Lucy Frazer has issued a new public interest intervention notice (PIIN) and extended the deadline for Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to hand over the findings of their probes into the acquisition.
Her department has written to solicitors acting for the Barclay family and RedBird IMI, the current and proposed owners of TMG, to inform them of the decision, which was made over concerns for “the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers”.
She had already triggered a PIIN in November to investigate the potential impact on press freedom if the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator were taken over by RedBird IMI as proposed.
The new deadline for Ofcom and the CMA to report is 9am on March 11, Ms Frazer said.
The fresh intervention comes after RedBird IMI, an investment fund majority owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice president of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced a new corporate structure to create a UK-based holding company for the Telegraph newspapers.
“Following the restructure, Redbird IMI Media Joint Venture, LCC is no longer part of the corporate structure of the proposed acquisition of TMG, as it has been replaced by RB IMI AIV Limited Partnership,” a letter from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said to solicitors acting on behalf of Redbird IMI and RB Investco.
The merger means that RB Investco would “gain ownership and control over TMG”, which Ms Frazer notes is a “practical and technical step” taken to prove that RedBird IMI is an “entirely passive investor with absolutely no management or operational rights in relation to TMG”.
The letter added: “The Secretary of State considers that further investigation is needed to fully consider how the structural changes which you have made affect the public interest consideration, and whether any undertakings relating to editorial independence and ensuring IMI has no operational involvement, including editorial influence, in TMG are sufficient to address the public interest concerns.”
On Friday, the boss of TMG stepped down immediately from the newspaper publisher amid the proposed takeover.
Nick Hugh, who was head of the business since 2017, will be replaced by Anna Jones, who will become the media group’s first female boss.
She will be tasked with navigating the business through the turbulence of its attempted takeover.
The fund announced in November it had reached a deal with the Barclay family to take control of the newspaper group, and fellow publication The Spectator, by paying off debts owed to its bank, Lloyds.
The fresh government intervention comes after Andrew Neil, the chairman of The Spectator, became the latest to rally against the potential takeover, urging ministers to block the deal.
The journalist and broadcaster told the BBC he would quit his role with the 200-year-old publication if the “absurd” takeover goes ahead.