Jeff Zucker Abandons Telegraph Bid, Putting London Paper Back Into Play

Jeff Zucker’s bid for Tory titan-hood has come to an end.

The media executive on Tuesday formally abandoned his attempt to take the reins of London’s Daily Telegraph, bailing out after British political and news leaders balked at Mr. Zucker’s reliance on Emirati financiers to bankroll the effort.

Mr. Zucker’s venture company, RedBird IMI, had sought government approval to finalize a debt-for-equity deal that would hand it control of The Telegraph and its sister magazine, The Spectator. Because of the withdrawal, other prospective owners may now attempt to purchase the publications.

“Our ownership would have seen the strongest editorial protections ever put forward for a U.K. newspaper, along with much-needed investment,” a RedBird IMI spokesperson said in a statement. “Regrettably, it is clear this approach is no longer feasible. Our focus now is on providing certainty to the employees and readers of The Telegraph and The Spectator, and securing best value for the assets, which remain highly attractive.”

RedBird IMI is a joint venture between an American private equity company, RedBird Capital, and an Abu Dhabi investment fund, called International Media Investments, that is under the direction of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan, who belongs to the royal family of the United Arab Emirates.

Critics cited the U.A.E.’s track record of autocratic government and reframed Mr. Zucker’s proposed takeover as a flashpoint about foreign influence over British institutions.

The Telegraph, sometimes referred to as The Torygraph, is considered a house organ of sorts for Britain’s Conservative Party. Leaders of the party were instrumental in persuading government officials to advance legislation to bar foreign state ownership of British newspapers and newsmagazines, a maneuver that effectively mooted Mr. Zucker’s bid.

Mr. Zucker, a former president of CNN, had pledged significant financial support for The Telegraph’s journalism and was considering an expansion into the United States market. Now the newspaper’s future is once again uncertain.

Paul Marshall, a British hedge-fund billionaire who has bankrolled a right-wing TV network, GB News, is considered likely to pursue The Telegraph. The mogul Rupert Murdoch has long wanted to own The Spectator, one of London’s most prestigious magazines.

RedBird IMI spent roughly £600 million, or roughly $750 million, toward acquiring its interest in The Telegraph and The Spectator. It will now seek to recoup that amount in the sale.

Mr. Zucker is still pursuing other media deals in the United Kingdom. In February, RedBird IMI struck a $1.45 billion deal for a television production company called All3Media, which has overseen British hits like “Fleabag” and “The Traitors.”

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