UK plans to ban foreign state ownership of newspapers

A selection of UK national newspapers displayed in a newsstand in London. April 5, 2023.
A selection of UK national newspapers displayed in a newsstand in London. April 5, 2023. Copyright Alastair Grant/AP.
Copyright Alastair Grant/AP.
By Eleanor Butler
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The proposed law comes in response to a UAE-backed bid for The Daily Telegraph newspaper and The Spectator magazine.


The UK government is seeking to curb foreign state influence over the country's media following a United Arab Emirates-backed investment firm's attempt to take over two national publications.

During a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday evening, media minister Stephen Parkinson said the government would propose an amendment to the "Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill" currently making its way through Parliament.

The amendment would prevent foreign state ownership of newspapers and news magazines, although it would still need to be approved in the House of Lords and the House of Commons before taking effect.

The legislation would apply solely to foreign states, meaning that overseas individuals and businesses would still be able to own UK newspapers and magazines.

"Freedom of the press is fundamental to a functioning democracy," said Parkinson. "What freedom of the press means is freedom from government."

The proposed law is a reaction to a £600 million (€703 million) bid from RedBird IMI to acquire UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph and news magazine The Spectator.

RedBirdIMI, of which UAE Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour owns a 75% stake, has made a number of acquisitions in the UK in recent years.

Notably, the firm agreed to buy UK TV production house All3Media in February, and Sheikh Mansour also has a majority stake in Manchester City Football Club.

Reacting to the planned amendment in a statement, RedBird IMI said it was "extremely disappointed" and argued that the UK's media industry was worthy of more investment.

"We will now evaluate our next steps, with commercial interests continuing to be the sole priority," it said.

The Spectator editor Fraser Nelson has, on the other hand, welcomed the government's move.

"If governments start to own newspapers, whether they're British governments, European governments or an Arab government, you end up with press freedom compromised fatally," he told Sky News.

"In journalism, one of the maxims is follow the money and if that money leads to the Abu Dhabi government, then you've got a pretty big problem when it comes to press freedom," Nelson added.

The Spectator and The Daily Telegraph are both politically conservative outlets, and the latter in particular is often referred to as the mouthpiece of the UK's Conservative party.

The takeover has been largely criticised by Conservative politicians, more so than those on the left of the political divide.

The sale of the two publications was referred to the UK's media regulator Ofcom and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in November of last year.

Culture secretary Lucy Frazer received their findings on Monday and she must now decide whether to open further investigations.

While the RedBird IMI deal remains in limbo, alternative bidders are standing by. 


High-profile contenders include GB News tycoon Paul Marshall, Daily Mail owners DMGT, and Rupert Murdoch's News UK.

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