Readers of this newspaper will be aware that its future ownership is in a state of flux. For the past few months, it has been in the hands of the receivers after Lloyds Bank took control when the bank failed to reach an agreement over the repayment of loans made to the former owners, the Barclay family.
Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, was appointed to oversee an auction of the Telegraph titles and The Spectator. A number of media groups have expressed an interest in bidding and were due to make their dispositions known shortly, but the sale process has now been paused until December 4.
This is because the Barclay family has been pursuing an alternative course of action which has almost certainly scuppered the auction plan. They have secured loans of £1.2 billion from Abu Dhabi-backed funds to pay Lloyds the amount the bank is owed in full.
If the money is forthcoming, and there is no reason to believe it won’t be, then ownership will revert to the Barclays. However, because the Telegraph group is collateral for part of the loan, RedBird International Media Investments – an Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund – will exercise an option to convert the debt into ownership “at an early opportunity”. This could all happen within days.
The takeover of the Telegraph by a fund linked to a state not known for encouraging free expression is bound to concern readers. It has alarmed some Conservative MPs, who have written to ministers urging a Government inquiry under the Enterprise Act 2002 and the National Security and Investment Act 2021, especially if the offer involved taking the publications as security for the loans, “an amount which ... the revenue of the publications will not be able to support”.
RedBird IMI said it is “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”.
It said the Abu Dhabi arm would be a passive investor only and that transfer of ownership would be subject to regulatory review with which it would cooperate fully. These are encouraging intentions, but RedBird IMI needs to spell out how it will ensure that a cast-iron and binding commitment to the Telegraph’s continued independence can be guaranteed.