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Lord Hague speaks out against ‘disturbing’ UAE bid to buy the Telegraph

November 28, 2023 at 2:06 pm

William Hague arrives to take their seats inside Westminster Abbey in London on September 19, 2022 [GEOFF PUGH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Former British foreign secretary and leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague has described the potential takeover of conservative broadsheet the Telegraph by Abu Dhabi as “disturbing” and said it “should be prevented.”

Writing in the Times yesterday, Lord Hague explained: “I say that as an avowed enthusiast for the Emirates, its achievements and its role in the world.”

He also called on Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer to intervene, saying he would do so if he were in that position. Last week the Telegraph reported that Frazer will issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice (PIIN) that would prompt regulators to investigate. Frazer said she would be “minded” to launch a regulatory review of the proposed sale on the grounds of protecting “free expression of opinion and “accurate presentation of news.”

In his column, Hague recounted a call he had received from a “senior figure” in the UAE when he was foreign secretary, complaining about the BBC’s media coverage: “He found it difficult to comprehend that British ministers could do nothing about media coverage that had implications for Britain’s foreign relations, and that we would regard it as wrong even to try,” he wrote.

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“The idea of owning or establishing a company or institution that is deliberately annoying to you, and doing nothing about that, was alien to him.”

“In his world, there was no clear separation between private and public interest, or between national policy and media coverage.”

Current owners of the Telegraph and the Spectator, Lloyds Banking Group, took control in June from the Barclay family, and are pursuing a £1.2 billion ($1.5 billion) deal to hand over control of the outlets to RedBirdIMI, a fund backed by UAE Vice President and Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.

It has also been reported that former chancellor, Nadhim Zahawi has been acting as an “intermediary” on the deal, and could be made chairman of the newspaper, should the takeover go through.

The Telegraph notes that the proposed transaction has heightened concerns over press freedom, given the Gulf state’s authoritarian leadership and track record of media censorship.

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