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Abu Dhabi-backed group ends Telegraph takeover bid

London – An Abu Dhabi-backed group planning to take over Britain’s Telegraph Media Group (TMG) said Tuesday it will withdraw and sell on the business after the UK government moved to block the deal.

RedBird IMI, a joint venture between US firm RedBird Capital and Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments, struck a £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) deal with TMG’s previous owners, the Barclay family, in November.

The agreement, which has faced opposition over its potential impact on freedom of speech given Abu Dhabi’s press censorship record, saw RedBird IMI pay off bank debts in exchange for control of the media group.

However, last month the UK government said it would bring forward legislation to block such state-backed takeover deals in the industry, while Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer also mulled a full regulator probe.

The regulatory hurdles appear to have prompted RedBird IMI to now abandon the endeavour to own and control TMG, which also includes The Spectator magazine.

“RedBird IMI has today confirmed that it intends to withdraw from its proposed acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group and proceed with a sale,” it said in a statement.

“We continue to believe this approach would have benefited the Telegraph and Spectator’s readers, their journalists and the UK media landscape more widely.

“Regrettably, it is clear this approach is no longer feasible.”

RedBird IMI said it now plans to bring certainty to employees and readers of the publications by seeking new owners for the titles.

It added they “remain highly attractive” to potential suitors, with speculation they could be sold separately or as a package.

– ‘Cornerstone’ –

Frazer, who is set to make a lunchtime statement in parliament on the matter, said she had acted to “ensure that media freedom was protected while there was an investigation into those concerns”.

“I will now allow the parties to conduct an orderly transition and I will monitor the outcome with a view to taking any further regulatory action as required,” she added.

“The free press is a cornerstone of our democracy, and we cannot take it for granted.”

Frazer noted the government would continue to intervene “where necessary to protect the integrity and independence of these publications, given the unique role they play in our democracy”.

RedBird IMI’s original ownership plans sparked an uproar in British media circles, including among some lawmakers in the ruling Conservatives. 

It has long enjoyed a close ideological relationship with the right-leaning Telegraph titles.

The Spectator — once edited by former Tory prime minister and Brexit figurehead Boris Johnson — is widely considered the “Tory bible”.

The plans had also led to consternation among Telegraph staff, who have repeatedly spoken out against it, and press freedom activists.

Redbird IMI is majority-owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, vice president of UAE and owner of Manchester City Football Club.

It is run by former CNN president Jeff Zucker. 

Zucker had said that Mansour would be a “passive investor” and said the takeover was “American-led”.

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