The Emirati / RedBird IMI bid for the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator is opening up a wider conversation: how much of our national infrastructure should autocracies be allowed to buy? The Emiratis have been on a bit of a spree in recent years. They have 10 per cent of Heathrow airport, 15 per cent of Vodafone, 49 per cent of the Dogger Bank wind farm, Man City FC and now they want the Telegraph and Spectator. It would be the first time that a dictatorship would own a newspaper in a democracy, thereby setting a precedent. Much is riding in whether the UK government approves the deal.
LBC radio has just held a phone-in on the topic hosted by Ali Miraj, pegged to a new poll showing two-thirds of the public are against such deals. I opened the debate. Foreign owners, I said, are not a problem: Nikkei owns the FT. The issue is government ownership: a free press means freedom from government. You can listen to my case at the end of this blog; I’ve made similar points before. What I was interested in, and what I’d like to write about now, is what others had to say.
First was Hassan in Kensington. ‘Media is an important part of our society. It’s not just another business, it is designed not just to hold foreign governments to account, it is designed to hold every centre of power to account, whether local or abroad.’ He voiced dismay at seeing Richard Sharp, a buddy of Boris Johnson, being made BBC chairman. ‘We have seen how important an independent media is.’ But Qatari-owned al-Jazeera, he said, did offer ‘very useful’ contrast to BBC.
Josh in Chiswick said that no foreign government should own media but ‘I’d say the same for key infrastructure.’ He saw the Evening Standard as a cautionary tale, given the Lebedev family’s links.