Jeff Zucker, the former president of CNN and onetime CEO of NBCUniversal, is eying a push by right-leaning British newspaper The Daily Telegraph into the U.S. if his company’s bid to buy the title is successful.
An auction for the Telegraph Media Group, which includes magazine The Spectator, was halted this week when Zucker’s company RedBird IMI offered to clear the debts of the group’s previous owner, the Barclay family, totaling more than £1.1 billion ($1.38 billion), according to The Financial Times.
RedBird IMI is a joint venture between private-equity firm RedBird Capital, led by former Goldman Sachs partner Gerry Cardinale, and Abu Dhabi’s International Media Investments, a private investment fund run by Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan.
Other bidders for The Telegraph include Rupert Murdoch’s News U.K., owner of London newspapers The Times and The Sun; Lord Rothermere’s DMGT, owner of London’s Daily Mail; and Paul Marshall, a hedge fund billionaire and co-owner of British television news channel GB News, The Financial Times reported.
Speaking to The Financial Times Friday, Zucker said: “We believe there is real potential to … establish The Telegraph as a much more global media brand. We’ve thought for a long time that the real gap in the U.S. marketplace was a very strong center-right media brand.”
He said The Telegraph is “a great, iconic brand that stands for quality journalism” and could provide an alternative in the U.S. to more liberal titles such as The New York Times and Washington Post.
He also underscored his commitment to the editorial independence of The Telegraph after a group of Conservative Party politicians raised concerns about Abu Dhabi’s involvement in the deal. In a statement to Parliament on Wednesday, the culture secretary, Lucy Frazer, said she was “minded” to ask the media regulator, Ofcom, to vet the deal on public interest grounds.
Zucker, who as well as running CNN was a top producer at NBC’s “Today” morning program, told The Financial Times he would “make sure that [the U.K. government] understand that we’re prepared to make commitments that should assuage anyone’s concerns.”
He promised to create an editorial advisory board at The Telegraph and The Spectator to safeguard their editorial independence and said there were no plans to change the management or the editorial team at either title.
“We feel confident that with those moves that there should be no question about the editorial independence of The Telegraph or Spectator,” he said, adding: “I’ve spent 35 years running or supervising news organizations, and there’s nothing I understand more than editorial independence. I have staked my reputation and legacy on not allowing editorial interference.”