Last night The Spectator’s chairman, Andrew Neil, spoke for the first time about the sale of this magazine and the Telegraph newspaper to Redbird IMI, an entity run by the former head of CNN, Jeff Zucker, and backed financially by the United Arab Emirates. In November last year, the government issued a Public Interest Intervention Notice, halting the sale process until Ofcom, the media regulator, and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigate. They are due to report back to the government today, which could then decide to block the sale entirely.
You can watch the full video here – a transcript is below:
Speaking on Newsnight ahead of the government’s response, Andrew Neil branded the idea of a foreign government, and particularly a dictatorship, owning the publications as ‘absurd’, pointing out that:
‘The UAE is a terribly successful place. I’ve done business there, but it’s not a democratic government. We’re a democracy. Our publications are part of the democratic process. How could we be owned by an undemocratic government? … The Spectator was founded 200 years ago, to fight for the extension of the franchise to give more people the vote. Are we seriously going to contemplate that in 2024? We’re going to be owned by people who run a government where nobody has the vote.’
Asked whether the safeguards put forward by RedBird IMI to protect the publications – such as legal promises to the government to set up an editorial charter – would be enough to guarantee The Spectator’s editorial independence, he responded that:
‘Well, he who pays the piper gets to choose the tune and the people paying the piper here is the UAE. They’ve supplied 75 per cent of the funds for this deal to go ahead. So the idea that they are just going to shell out hundreds of millions of pounds and then just disappear, I think is for the birds, that’s not going to happen.