UK Moves to Limit Foreign State Media Ownership

In a significant move to safeguard the independence of British media, the UK government has announced an initiative to amend current legislation, effectively barring foreign states from acquiring ownership stakes in British newspapers. This development comes amid heightened scrutiny over the proposed acquisition of the Telegraph by RedBird IMI, an investment group backed by Abu Dhabi funds.

Culture Minister Stephen Parkinson declared the government’s intention to revise the media merger regime to explicitly exclude mergers that involve foreign state ownership, influence, or control over British newspapers and periodicals. The announcement was made in the House of Lords, signaling a firm stance on maintaining the integrity of the nation’s press.

The Telegraph, a 168-year-old publication with deep ties to the Conservative Party, has been at the center of a contentious battle for control. The proposed changes to the law would thwart RedBird IMI’s current bid to purchase the newspaper and the Spectator news magazine. RedBird IMI, led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker and primarily funded by Abu Dhabi, expressed its disappointment and is reassessing its strategy following this development.

The government’s plan comes in response to mounting pressure from lawmakers, including a proposed amendment by Tina Stowell, a former Conservative leader in the Lords. Stowell’s amendment, which garnered support from over 100 members of parliament, aimed to grant parliament veto power over foreign governments taking over British media organizations. Concerns raised included potential editorial interference and censorship.

With Stowell withdrawing her amendment in light of the government’s proposal, the new ban on foreign control is anticipated to be voted on in the House of Lords soon. Should it pass both the Lords and the House of Commons, it would enforce a new obligation for the government to refer any relevant media merger to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). If the CMA finds that a merger leads to foreign state control over a newspaper enterprise, the government would be compelled to block or reverse the merger.

This move underscores the UK’s commitment to preserving a free and independent press amidst political challenges faced by the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. With polls suggesting an uphill battle for the Tories in the upcoming election, the government’s decisive action on media ownership reflects broader concerns about foreign influence in key national institutions.

newspaper ownership

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