Telegraph Media Group Ltd: Acquisition - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 7:02 pm ar 1 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 30 April.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will update the House on the proposed acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group by RB Investco Ltd. I will refer to the Telegraph Media Group as the Telegraph and to RB Investco Ltd as the purchaser.

As the House will know, the sale of the Telegraph is currently subject to the media mergers process. Today, I would like to confirm that the purchaser has notified me of its intention to sell the call option agreement that gives it the ability to buy the Telegraph, in effect withdrawing from the purchase of the newspaper. This step follows the intervention I made on the merger situation on 26 January 2024, both to issue a public interest intervention notice, or PIIN, and to issue a pre-emptive action order. It also follows on from my announcement of 19 March on my assessment, following the reports of the Competition and Markets Authority and Ofcom, that I was minded to refer the merger to a further, more detailed phase 2 investigation. I have taken these decisions on the basis of the evidence in the case, and I will continue to do so.

I am now updating the House on the procedures and protections for the public interest that are in place in respect of the Telegraph, given the sale process that I understand will begin shortly. I have informed the parties that it would not be appropriate at this stage for me to take a decision on whether or not to make a phase 2 reference. In my view, the relevant merger situation remains in contemplation. I therefore continue to have powers, under the order, to prevent actions by the parties to the merger that might prejudice any phase 2 reference to the CMA or make it more difficult for me to take action as a result of my final decision following such a reference. The order prohibits the parties from making significant organisational and staff changes, including to the editorial team, without my consent. These restrictions remain in place. However, I have now agreed to derogations from the order that will give the parties the flexibility and regulatory space to make all reasonable preparations for the sale of the call option agreement.

It is important to be clear that I will not be engaging with prospective buyers, nor selecting the preferred bidder. The sale process will be run by RedBird IMI alone. My decision on any further derogation from the order that RedBird IMI will need to receive to complete the sale of the call option agreement will be made according to my powers and obligations under the Enterprise Act 2002, and it will be based on the public interest, rather than a qualitative decision on who should buy the titles. Any transfer to new ownership will also potentially be subject to the media mergers regime, as set out in the Act.

It is appropriate for me to say a few words about the underlying matters. I initiated this process under the powers I have under the Enterprise Act to protect the accurate presentation of news and the free expression of opinion in newspapers. These powers are vital. The freedom of the press to express opinions, to criticise and to hold power to account are all a fundamental part of our democracy. It is often said that the freedom of the press protects not the press’s freedom but ours.

It would not be appropriate for a foreign state to interfere with the accurate presentation of our news or the freedom of expression in newspapers. Although these powers under the existing media merger regime are broad, the Government have taken action to rule out newspaper and news magazine mergers involving any influence, ownership or control by foreign states. We have done that by amending the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which will shortly return to this House.

As a nation, we are a proud, open democracy and a strong trading power with a vibrant economy. Although we are rightly limiting powers to interfere with our democracy, as many other states do, in terms of foreign investment more generally we remain open for business.

I end by recognising the strength of feeling in this House and the other place, and by recognising the work done by the Minister of State, my honourable friend the Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez), by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, and in particular by the right honourable Baroness Stowell of Beeston.

I commend this Statement to the House”.