Ministers examining calls to stop foreign state involvement in UK online media

Calls to prevent foreign state involvement in UK online media are being examined by the Government, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer has said.

Ministers have previously agreed to amend the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill to ban foreign states from owning UK newspapers and magazines.

But MPs pressed ministers to go further as they welcomed news that RedBird IMI, an Abu Dhabi-backed fund, has withdrawn from a takeover deal for the Telegraph newspaper group.

Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith warned the Government is dealing with a “digital world with analogue tools”.

He told the Commons: “I know there’s an amendment coming through on another Bill, but we really, really, really need to speed this process up by saying very simply that no foreign state could own any of our media and we now need to look at the online elements as well if we can.”

Ms Frazer said the amendment to the Bill “puts beyond absolute doubt” that it would be “inappropriate” for a foreign state to own UK news media.

She added: “I do recognise that other point in relation to online media and that is absolutely something we are already looking at.”

Conservative MP Alexander Stafford (Rother Valley) also sought assurances on how the Government will prevent foreign involvement in online and television media.

Ms Frazer replied: “We are looking at the online news space, that is absolutely vital.

“It is important to emphasise that Ofcom already has significant powers in the broadcast space, has already taken actions in relation to foreign involvement in our broadcast media over here, has banned certain entities from operating and of course we always need to look at how we tackle misinformation – and that’s something we’re doing across government as a whole.”

Conservative former minister Sir John Redwood earlier welcomed the Government’s stance, adding: “I do hope that in the proposals for amending the law it will be very clear that’s not just a government, but it could be a nationalised industry, it could be a public authority, it could be a company with a shareholding by a state of significant influence because otherwise they might try and find ways around it.”

He added: “Can we please have an amendment that absolutely nails press freedom in the way we want it, free from influence from foreign states?”

Ms Frazer said it is important “we don’t have loopholes” in legislation, adding: “We thought about that as a department very carefully, how do we protect against that and I think he will see when the legislation comes back to this House this afternoon that we’ve defined foreign state ownership very broadly … it includes not only ownership, it also includes control and influence.”