Jeff Zucker’s RedBird IMI proposes deal to buy bankrupt UK publisher

Ousted CNN boss Jeff Zucker wants to make another foray into the news business by proposing to snap up a bankrupt British publishing group.

Zucker, the chief executive of investment group RedBird IMI, has reportedly agreed to fork over about $750 million to the Barclay family — owners of the Telegraph newspaper and Spectator magazine — that would allow them to repay their nearly $1.4 billion debt to Lloyds Banking Group.

RedBird would then have an option to convert the loan secured against the publications into equity, Financial Times reported on Monday.

The other portion of the debt financing would come from International Media Investments — the investment vehicle backed by Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan — secured against other Barclay family businesses and commercial interests, the FT reported.

Those assets include the Very retail and financial services group.

Zucker’s RedBird IMI agreed to take control of the Telegraph and Spectator publications under a deal to repay the debt owed by the Barclay family to Lloyds Banking Group.
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Lloyds seized the publications in June from the the Barclay brothers — Sir David and Sir Frederick — who bought the titles from Conrad Black in 2004 for $1.3 billion.

If Lloyds agrees to the proposal, the deal will mark the end of the Barclay family ownership of the Telegraph, a conservative broadsheet founded in 1855, and The Spectator, which has been published weekly since 1828.

“RedBird IMI are entirely committed to maintaining the existing editorial team of the Telegraph and Spectator publications, and believe that editorial independence for these titles is essential to protecting their reputation and credibility,” a rep for RedBird IMI told the PressGazette.

A deal would put Zucker in charge of British publications the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator.
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“We are excited by the opportunity to support the titles’ existing management to expand the reach of the titles in the UK, the US and other English-speaking countries,” the rep for Zucker’s Abu Dhabi-backed investment fund added.

A deal would end months of speculation over a sale to potential bidders, which have included Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail and General Trust, David Montgomery’s National World, German publisher Axel Springer (before it pulled out) and GB News investor Sir Paul Marshall.

Any transfer of ownership will be the subject of regulatory review, especially as fears rise in the UK over the influence the United Arab Emirates may have on British publications.

A group of Conservative Members of Parliament, writing to Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, urged “close scrutiny” of the deal.

News of a potential deal with the UAE-backed RedBird IMI caused some British Parliament members to warn of influence over their news organizations.
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In a letter published in Bloomberg over the weekend, they wrote: “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.”

Zucker, who was pushed out at CNN in 2022 after failing to reveal his relationship with a co-worker, has been on the hunt for deals. Last month, RedBird IMI scooped up a minority stake in online newsletter Front Office Sports.

Zucker had reportedly also been eyeing other media properties, including the Washington Post, Semafor, Puck and Air Mail — the media company founded by former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter.

He has yet to announce any deals with those properties.

Zucker also recently said he would be interested in buying CNN if parent Warner Bros. Discovery put the cable news network up for sale. The Post first reported the news in June.

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