Public Interest Intervention Notice was issued in December

Telegraph owner-in-waiting moves to assure doubters

Zucker pledged that journalists would have editorial independence
Zucker pledged that journalists would have editorial independence

The American former media executive helming the controversial Abu Dhabi-backed bid for the Telegraph and Spectator titles has described RedBird IMI as being “a little bit smarter than some of our competitors” in its approach to the sale.

Former CNN boss Jeff Zucker is now CEO of RedBird IMI and operating partner at RedBird Capital Partners.

In an interview with BBC business editor Simon Jack on Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, he was asked why RedBird IMI had not gone through the normal channels – an auction process for the titles was instigated last year with a number of well-known UK media groups in the frame as possible bidders.

Zucker said: “We clearly wanted to have certainty that we would win that process and so this allowed us to take any uncertainty off the table.

“Just because we were a little smarter than some of our competitors in our ability to do that doesn’t mean there was anything nefarious about it. It just means we were a little bit smarter.”

Quizzed over negative reactions to the prospect of the UAE royal family having control of a national newspaper, Zucker pledged that journalists would have complete and total editorial independence, and said RedBird IMI had given the government that assurance.

Also on the Today programme, former Conservative party leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “No newspaper titles should come under the ownership of a foreign government. Their attitudes, their beliefs, their structures are fundamentally different. 

“I would have the same objections if the French government decided they were going to buy the Telegraph.”

In December Lucy Frazer, secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport, issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) in relation to the anticipated acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group by RedBird IMI.

She stated: “At this stage, my decision to issue the PIIN triggers the requirement for the Competition and Markets Authority to report to me on jurisdictional and competition matters, and for Ofcom to report to me on the media public interest consideration in section 58(2A) of the Enterprise Act 2002 – namely, the need for accurate presentation of news and free expression of opinion in newspapers.”

Both the CMA and Ofcom have been asked to report back to Frazer by 26 January.

The Telegraph and Spectator were put up for sale in dramatic circumstances last summer after Lloyds Banking Group seized control of the titles' parent company over unpaid debts.