Amendment 67

Part of Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 4:15 pm ar 13 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Fleet Baroness Fleet Ceidwadwyr 4:15, 13 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 67, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and I congratulate her on all the hard work she has done to get to this point.

I have not spoken previously on the Bill, but I specifically want to speak today as a passionate supporter of a free press and freedom of speech. As a former deputy editor of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph, and the editor for seven years of the London Evening Standard, I know that anyone who buys a newspaper wants to influence society, politicians and government. All proprietors interfere. Many editors have been forced to resign because of that interference. I departed from the Telegraph with Max Hastings because the owner—the noble Lord, Lord Black—disagreed with the editor’s support for Europe. After I left the Standard, the paper became a promotion vehicle for the new owner, the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev, and his personal interests. The notion that a Government, or someone appointed by a Government, buys a newspaper other than to directly influence the newspaper is fanciful.

Turning to the Telegraph, we should acknowledge that, since 7 October, that newspaper has boldly championed the right of Israel to defend itself against Islamic terrorism. Importantly, every week the Telegraph has criticised the pro-Palestinian parades through London for their anti-Semitism. The idea that an Arab owner—any Arab owner—of the Telegraph or any other newspaper would allow its editor to support Israel and criticise pro-Palestinian anti-Semites is an absurd notion.

I go even further: perhaps one reason why a foreign Government would want to buy an important newspaper such as the Telegraph would be to promote an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian point of view. Once that foreign Government owned the newspaper, there would nothing anyone could do to prevent their interference. We want a free press, not a major newspaper controlled by an undemocratic Arab state.

It is now suggested that, to avoid a blanket ban on their purchase, the Abu Dhabi Government would be content with a minority stake. Allowing that would also endanger the Telegraph. There would be nothing to prevent the rich minority shareholder offering an extremely tempting fortune to a co-shareholder for their stake. That would give Abu Dhabi a majority interest—just what the proposed amendment seeks to avoid.

Finally, I turn to News International. I admire Rupert Murdoch, but I must tell the House that, having been one of the independent members of the Times supervisory board for nine years—a similar structure to that proposed by the bidders for the Telegraph—we had no real power. If we do not pass this amendment, we will send out a signal that if, after Murdoch’s death perhaps, News International is put up for sale, any foreign Government —perhaps Qatar or even Russia—would then be welcome to buy another chunk of our newspapers. We must protect our newspapers from that threat.