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Article United Kingdom: Acquisition of Telegraph Media Group Halted due to Concerns over Accurate Presentation of News and Free Expression of Opinion

On November 30, 2023, the United Kingdom’s (U.K.’s) secretary of state for culture, media and sport, Lucy Frazer, issued a public interest intervention notice (PIIN) under section 42 of the Enterprise Act 2002 in the matter of a proposed acquisition of the Telegraph Media Group (TMG) by RedBird IMI Media Joint Venture, LLC (RedBird IMI). Section 42 of the Enterprise Act 2002 allows the secretary of state to issue an order where the secretary has reasonable grounds to suspect that a relevant merger situation has been created, or that arrangements are in place that would create a relevant merger, that concerns a public interest consideration. Specifically, the public interest considerations for which the secretary of state issued the PIIN are contained in section 58 of the Enterprise Act and provide “[t]he need for— (a) accurate presentation of news; and (b) free expression of opinion [to ensure] … a sufficient plurality of views in newspapers.”

The secretary of state is particularly concerned that RedBird IMI will acquire the TMG, resulting in a relevant merger situation that gives rise to concerns over the accurate presentation of the news, editorial independence, and influence from RedBird IMI. In the PIIN, the secretary of state noted that she is

concerned about the potential influence RedBird IMI and International Media Investments (IMI is the majority stakeholder in Redbird IMI and IMI is privately owned by a member of the UAE government) over TMG which could affect the free expression of opinion and accurate presentation of news in the Newspapers.

While RedBird IMI stated it will not have any material influence over TMG and is prepared to make a legally binding undertaking to the U.K. government that it will be a passive investor and not exercise any control over the Telegraph, the secretary wants further investigation of the merger, noting that the information provided has been limited and lacking in detail. The secretary has also noted that any voluntary undertakings can be changed, but that once a PIIN has been issued it allows the government to accept a statutory undertaking from RedBird IMI.

The PIIN serves to halt the proposed acquisition while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), an independent non-ministerial government department responsible for competition and consumer protection, and the Office of Communication (Ofcom), the U.K.’s communications regulator, investigate the acquisition and provide a report to the secretary of state under sections 44 and 44A of the Enterprise Act.

In accordance with guidance on the operation of the public interest in media mergers, the review will assess the impact of the acquisition of TMG

by reference of past behaviour by the enterprises in question, or by the persons with control of such enterprise. As such, the Secretary of State is concerned about the potential for influence over the Newspapers’ newspaper operations, including editorial operations, given that the aforementioned parties connected to Redbird IMI have links to or control of media organisations that have been critiqued with regard to the accuracy of their presentation of news and/or freedom of expression.

To avoid an “excessive regulatory burden,” the merger control regime in the U.K. is voluntary, meaning that businesses may choose whether to notify the CMA of a merger. In this case, the secretary of state intervened due to public interest considerations and requested a review of the acquisition from the CMA and OfCom. The CMA has a duty under the Enterprise Act 2002 to track merger activities to determine if any have resulted in, or may be expected to result in, a substantial lessening of competition.

Clare Feikert-Ahalt, Law Library of Congress
February 14, 2024

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Feikert-Ahalt, Clare. United Kingdom: Acquisition of Telegraph Media Group Halted due to Concerns over Accurate Presentation of News and Free Expression of Opinion. 2024. Web Page. https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-02-13/united-kingdom-acquisition-of-telegraph-media-group-halted-due-to-concerns-over-accurate-presentation-of-news-and-free-expression-of-opinion/.

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Feikert-Ahalt, C. (2024) United Kingdom: Acquisition of Telegraph Media Group Halted due to Concerns over Accurate Presentation of News and Free Expression of Opinion. [Web Page] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-02-13/united-kingdom-acquisition-of-telegraph-media-group-halted-due-to-concerns-over-accurate-presentation-of-news-and-free-expression-of-opinion/.

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Feikert-Ahalt, Clare. United Kingdom: Acquisition of Telegraph Media Group Halted due to Concerns over Accurate Presentation of News and Free Expression of Opinion. 2024. Web Page. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2024-02-13/united-kingdom-acquisition-of-telegraph-media-group-halted-due-to-concerns-over-accurate-presentation-of-news-and-free-expression-of-opinion/>.