UK blocks Abu Dhabi-backed firm from further tweaking Telegraph deal

By Muvija M

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain on Tuesday issued a legal order preventing an Abu Dhabi-backed group from making more changes to its proposed takeover of the Telegraph newspaper, days after eleventh hour adjustments by RedBird IMI group reset an ongoing regulatory process.

The Telegraph and its sister title, the Spectator magazine, should not be integrated with any other enterprise and no organisational or management changes are to be made by RedBird IMI without government consent while a probe is carried out, the order said.

The publications, some of Britain's oldest, are widely regarded as important indicators of views in the governing Conservatives.

RedBird IMI, which is led by former CNN executive Jeff Zucker, did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. It has previously said "maintaining the editorial independence of the newspaper is essential to protecting its reputation, credibility and value".

The government last November cited public interest grounds when it intervened in the deal proposed by Redbird IMI - backed by Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan - and ordered an investigation to assess its impact on freedom of expression and accuracy.

But Redbird IMI last week changed the corporate structure through which it planned to take over the Telegraph and its sister title, the Spectator magazine.

That prompted the government to issue a new intervention notice, again on the same grounds, but pushed the deadline by which the country's competition regulator, the CMA, and media watchdog Ofcom would need to submit their reports to March 11 from Jan. 26.

Media minister Lucy Frazer noted then that RedBird IMI's actions were not "conducive to the full and proper functioning of the process".

The order on Tuesday also stated that ministers had reasons to suspect that the planned deal will "result in two or more enterprises ceasing to be distinct".

Under the revised deal, the titles, some of Britain's oldest, will now be owned by a new English registered company of which RedBird IMI is a limited partner.

(Reporting by Muvija M; editing by William James and Tomasz Janowski)