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November 28, 2023updated 29 Nov 2023 12:30pm

Two-thirds of Telegraph subscribers ‘less likely’ to renew if UAE-linked bid goes ahead

However a majority of surveyed Telegraph readers said the title's ownership did not greatly matter to them.

By Bron Maher

More than two-thirds of Telegraph subscribers say they would be “less likely” to renew their subscription if the paper is acquired by the Abu Dhabi-backed Redbird IMI investment fund, a Yougov poll has found.

The survey of 532 British adults whose main choice of daily newspaper was The Daily Telegraph, including 307 print or digital subscribers, was commissioned by Stack Data Strategy. Stack is a sister company of PR firm Hanbury Strategy, which is assisting Paul Marshall’s bid for the newspaper.

About a quarter (27%) of the surveyed subscribers said they would be “much less likely” to renew their subscription if The Telegraph is acquired “by entities tied to Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Deputy Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates”.

A further 42% said they would be “a bit less likely” to renew, while 27% said it would make no difference to their subscription.

The Telegraph auction process was paused last week after Redbird IMI said it had agreed loans to the Barclay family that would allow the former Telegraph Media Group (TMG) proprietors to repay the £1.16bn they owe to Lloyds Banking Group. If the debt is repaid before 1 December the family will be able to take The Telegraph and The Spectator out of receivership.

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[Explained: Why Telegraph sale has been paused after RedBird IMI deal with Barclays]

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Redbird IMI said it hoped to convert its loan to the Barclays to equity in TMG “at an early opportunity”. The investment fund is a consortium formed of US firm Redbird Capital (which is run by businessman and AC Milan owner Gerry Cardinale) and Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments (owned by Sheikh Mansour, who also owns Manchester City football club).

The consortium’s chief executive is Jeff Zucker, the former CNN president who resigned from the company in early 2022 over his failure to disclose a relationship with Allison Gollust, the network’s chief marketing officer.

Telegraph readers most concerned with new owner's commitment to journalistic standards

In the Stack survey, 62% of readers chose “being British rather than based abroad” when asked to select multiple characteristics they would value in The Telegraph’s new owners.

When readers were asked to choose only one characteristic they would value in a new owner, however, only 14% selected being British. Just over a third (35%) instead said they would value the owner’s commitment “to maintaining high journalistic standards” most highly, and a further 33% said they valued the owner being “committed to a free press and freedom of speech”.

Zucker told the FT last week Redbird IMI would "make sure" the UK Government "understand that we’re prepared to make commitments that should assuage anyone’s concerns". He said they would create an editorial advisory board to uphold the independence of both The Telegraph and The Spectator and that they did not plan to make changes to either the management or editorial teams.

"We feel confident that with those moves that there should be no question about the editorial independence of the Telegraph or Spectator," Zucker said. "I’ve spent 35 years running or supervising news organisations, and there’s nothing I understand more than editorial independence."

Update to add: Zucker has since said more about his guarantees of editorial independence in an interview with The Telegraph but the comments section under the story was filled with subscribers threatening to cancel their subscriptions. Read more here.

Overall, asked “how much, if at all, does it matter to you who owns the Telegraph” 39% of respondents said “not very much” and 16% “not at all”.

Only 13% of readers said it mattered to them “a lot” who owns the paper, and 28% “a fair amount”. Some 41% of readers were not aware there was a sales process underway in the first place.

Among readers with no subscription to The Telegraph, 23% said they would be “much less likely” to continue reading the paper if it were acquired by Redbird IMI. Another 41% said they would be “a bit less likely” to continue reading.

When respondents were told that “it has been reported that the UAE censors journalists and fines them for critical reporting on government authorities”, 43% said they would be “much less likely” and 31% “a bit less likely” to keep reading The Telegraph.

Among the paper’s subscribers, 27% said it would "make no difference” to them whether the Redbird IMI bid succeeded. Some 2% said they would be “more likely” to renew their subscription in that eventuality and 2% said they would be “a bit more likely”.

Prompted with reports that the UAE censors journalists, a net of 76% of Telegraph subscribers said they would be less likely to renew their subscription if the bid goes through.

TMG has for several years built a commercial strategy centred on acquiring and retaining paying subscribers. In August the company hit one million subscriptions, assisted by its acquisition of the Chelsea Magazine Company in June.

A group of Conservative MPs wrote to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden last week saying: “Material influence over a quality national newspaper being passed to a foreign ruler at any time should raise concerns, but given the current geopolitical context, such a deal must be investigated.”

Frazer has told Parliament she is “minded to” issue a Public Interest Intervention Notice into the deal.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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