An investigation has opened into whether the sale of a 30 per cent stake in The Independent and Evening Standard newspaper is in the public interest.
Jeremy Wright, the culture secretary, told MPs he would issue a public interest intervention notice (PIIN), triggering the inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and Ofcom.
They will investigate the sales of stakes in both titles by Evgeny Lebedev to Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel, a Saudi investor.
In a written statement, Mr Wright said: “I continue to believe that it may be the case that the public interest considerations of freedom of expression and accurate news reporting are relevant to this merger. I thus consider it appropriate for me to intervene in this matter.”
The CMA will report back on “jurisdictional and competition matters” and Ofcom on “public interest considerations”.
A spokesperson for ESI Media, the parent company of the titles, said: “We are surprised and very disappointed that the Secretary of State has decided to issue an Intervention Notice on investments in Lebedev Holdings Limited and Independent Digital News and Media Limited.
"We believe this response is unfair and completely disproportionate to the facts.
“This intervention will achieve the opposite effect to the Government's stated objective of supporting public interest journalism, which we have made clear to the Secretary of State in our representations to him.
“As we have previously stated, we also believe that this investigation will create a further barrier to much needed future investment into the wider industry.
"The accurate presentation of news and freedom of expression is at the heart of our media outlets and we will continue to vigorously defend our editorial integrity when co-operating on this process.”
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