The Telegraph 2024-03-13 16:00:35


Foreign state ownership of UK newspapers to be banned amid UAE Telegraph takeover bid

Foreign state control of British news organisations is to be outlawed, in a move by Rishi Sunak to block the attempted UAE-takeover of The Telegraph.

Ministers are expected to reveal an amendment to the Digital Markets Bill on Wednesday afternoon to rule out UK newspaper and periodical news magazine mergers involving ownership, influence or control by foreign states.

The bid by RedBird IMI, a fund 75 per cent backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE vice president, would not be allowed by law.

However, deals where foreign state funding represented a minority interest not considered to create influence or control could be allowed.

It leaves the door ajar to a restructured bid by RedBird IMI with new non-state partners to reduce the UAE stake.

The wording of the new law is not expected to be published on Wednesday, however, meaning an element of uncertainty remains about exactly which future potential mergers would be affected.

But under the description set to be outlined by Lord Parkinson, the culture minister, it appears that takeovers where the majority owner is a foreign government would be blocked by law.

Under other legislation the threshold for a stake to be considered controlling is 25 per cent.

Bill could be passed by April 

The expected announcement could serve to counter a rebellion being led by a Tory peer in the House of Lords.

While the change will be implemented via an amendment to the Digital Markets Bill, the law that is to be reworded will be the existing Enterprise Act.

The change would come into effect once the Digital Markets Bill is passed by Parliament and is given royal assent, which could happen as soon as April.

Under the new regime, any proposed merger that could fall foul of the new foreign state ownership ban would be referred to the Competition and Markets Authority.

It is unclear whether a definition of what amounts to “influence”, for example a specific threshold for percentage ownership by a foreign state, will be named in law.

It is understood that the new rules, if they become law, would apply to any proposed foreign-state merger that is yet to be completed.

Ofcom and CMA reports under consideration 

It remains unclear whether UK newspapers which already are in effect part owned by foreign states would be affected.

Baroness Stowell, the former Tory leader in the Lords, has been putting pressure on the Government via an amendment seeking to give Parliament a veto on foreign state takeovers of UK media companies.

The move had been supported by more than 100 of the 650 sitting MPs, in a sign of how much concern has emerged in recent weeks.

Politicians from across the party spectrum have raised concerns about the UAE-backed attempt to take over The Telegraph, raising fears it could undermine press freedom.

The Culture Department is continuing to consider reports by the media regulator Ofcom and the CMA into the bid. The deadline for the reports to be handed in passed this week.

It is expected that Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, will approve a second further phase of investigation, which could last a further half a year.

That process is expected to continue even as the new law change is debated and voted upon. But once passed, it is expected to, in effect, block the Telegraph takeover bid. 

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Live Sunak told to review £10m donation amid racism row

Frank Hester’s donations to the Conservative Party should be reviewed, the Scottish Tories have said in a blow to Rishi Sunak after he attempted to draw a line under the racism row. 

Mr Sunak has faced calls to return £10 million in donations to Mr Hester after comments he allegedly made in the past about Diane Abbott sparked a political firestorm. 

Mr Sunak suggested at Prime Minister’s Questions that he did not intend to return the money as he said Mr Hester’s “remorse should be accepted”. 

But a Scottish Conservative spokesperson said in a statement: “These comments were racist and wrong.

“The Scottish Conservative Party has never accepted a donation from Frank Hester and the UK Conservative Party should carefully review the donations it has received from Hester in response to his remarks.”

Mr Hester was alleged to have told colleagues in a 2019 meeting that looking at Ms Abbott, a former Labour MP who now sits as an independent, makes you “want to hate all black women”.  

Mr Hester has admitted making “rude” comments about Ms Abbott, but claimed they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

You can follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments section here

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Meghan photographer denies faking picture

A close friend of the Duchess of Sussex has strongly denied claims that he altered an official portrait released to mark the announcement of Meghan’s pregnancy in 2021.

The carefully curated black and white image of the couple lying under the tree in their garden in Montecito, California, was taken by society photographer Misan Harriman.

It has been claimed that it was taken in a meadow and that the large willow tree had been superimposed behind them.

However, Mr Harriman, a “dear friend” of Meghan, denied the allegations, branding them “insidious” and “dangerous”.

Responding to the claims on Twitter, he said: “Your (sic) kidding right? It’s a real tree, nothing has been changed beyond the black and white grade…”

Mr Harriman took the picture remotely with an iPad from his home in London.

In 2022, he was asked during an appearance on BBC Radio 3 podcast Private Passions how he had created the photograph and he said: “It’s amazing what you can do with technology.”

The presenter asked him: “They weren’t actually under a willow tree, they were lying outside in a meadow, weren’t they, Harry and Meghan, when you took the photograph of them?”

Mr Harriman replied: “Yeah, they were lost in their love, at home, in their garden, comfortable, celebrating new joy.”

The claim that a tree had been superimposed prompted claims of hypocrisy after a source close to the Sussexes criticised the Princess of Wales for manipulating a family portrait.

The source told the New York Post’s Page Six column that Meghan would “never” make a picture editing mistake and that the couple would have been “annihilated” for releasing a doctored family portrait.

Mr Harriman said on Wednesday: “I suggest you listen to the podcast, I was asked a leading question by the host, I ignored it and spoke about the love my friends have for each other. How that can be turned into an article about me replacing trees is crazy.”

In a video posted on his Instagram page, he said the suggestion he had “admitted” manipulating the image was “dangerous.”

“Any mention of meadows and willow trees comes out of the person doing that interview, not my mouth,” he added.

Mr Harriman told the BBC at the time that the image – taken when Meghan was pregnant with Princess Lilibet – was his “most famous virtual shoot”.

He described how he had used technology that allowed him to communicate with the Sussexes and tell them how to pose, before he remotely “pressed the shutter button” thousands of miles away.

‘Absolute soulmates’

In a separate interview, he told Vogue: “With the tree of life behind them and the garden representing fertility, life and moving forward, they didn’t need any direction, because they are, and always have been, waltzing through life together as absolute soulmates.

“When you see people who have the connection that they have, it’s like reading the pages of a book.”

Meghan spoke about her dislike of having certain features airbrushed out of photographs after posing for a People magazine cover in 2017.

“To this day, my pet peeve is when my skin tone is changed and my freckles are airbrushed out of a photoshoot,” she said.

There is no suggestion the Sussexes edited the photograph themselves.

A spokesman for the couple has denied commenting about the Princess’s picture.

It came after the New York Post’s Page Six column quoted a source close to them saying: “This isn’t a mistake Meghan would ever make.

“She has a keen eye and freakish attention to detail.”

The reaction to the furore surrounding the Princess was held up as proof by those in the Sussexes’ camp that “the same rules do not apply to both couples”.

The source told Page Six: “If Harry and Meghan had ever encountered the same issue they would have been annihilated.”

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Starmer promises vote on legalising assisted dying

Sir Keir Starmer has promised to give MPs a vote on legalising assisted dying if Labour wins the next general election.

The Labour leader said he would hold a vote in the next parliament, opening the door to the law being changed before the end of the decade.

He made the comments after a conversation with Dame Esther Rantzen, the Childline founder and broadcaster who has terminal cancer and has publicly said she was considering assisted dying.

Dame Esther, 83, revealed in December that she had joined Dignitas, the Swiss organisation which provides physician-assisted suicide.

The last parliamentary vote on assisted dying was in 2015 and was defeated. The Prime Minister has indicated that he is open to another vote on the issue, but he has not committed to when.

The phone call between Sir Keir and Dame Esther was recorded by ITV News.

‘In favour of changing the law’

Sir Keir said: “I’m personally in favour of changing the law. I think we need to make time. We will make the commitment. Esther, I can give you that commitment right now.”

Asked by ITV News whether he would like a vote to take place in the next parliament, meaning at most five years from the next general election, Sir Keir said: “Oh yes, definitely.

“I think Esther would agree with this. For people who are going through this or are likely to go through it in the next few months or years, this matters hugely and delay just prolongs the agony.”

Sir Keir has previously floated the idea of support for a vote but this is the first time he has explicitly committed to that happening under a Labour government.

It would be a free vote, meaning that political parties would be expected not to whip their MPs into voting a particular way, with politicians instead able to vote with their conscience.

It is almost a decade since MPs last voted on legalising assisted dying.

In that vote, in September 2015, 330 MPs voted against the move and 118 in favour, meaning it was comfortably defeated.

At the time, Sir Keir voted to legalise assisted dying.

Whether a future vote would pass will depend on the make-up of the 650 MPs after the election, which is expected to be held this autumn.

Changes enacted in other nations

Those campaigning to legalise assisted dying often note the suffering that can be experienced by terminally ill patients and point to how law changes have been enacted in other nations.

Critics voice fears about whether the threshold for assisted dying could be set too low, with people potentially pressured into participation, and some have religious concerns.

A recent poll of more than 10,000 people by Opinium Research, conducted for the Dignity in Dying campaign, found three quarters of respondents supported making it lawful for terminally ill adults to access assisted dying in the UK.

It is unclear what exact wording for the legal change would be proposed.

Asked how he would address concerns about people being pressured into assisted dying, Sir Keir said: “I think that’s the crucial question.

“Firstly, I think the debate has to be conducted with respect. I personally think the law should be changed. There will be people equally passionate, with powerful points to make about why it shouldn’t be.”

“When I consulted on this [while director of public prosecutions] for the prosecutor’s guidelines, the churches and faith groups and others were very, very powerful in the arguments they made. We have to respect that and find the right balance in the end.

“I do think most people coalesce around the idea that there is a case [for assisted dying] where it is obviously compassionate, it is the settled intent of the individual, and there are safeguards with teeth to protect the vulnerable.”

Rishi Sunak has previously expressed openness to holding a free vote on assisted dying.

The Prime Minister said last month: “What the Government has always said, and I would commit to this of course, is if parliament decided that it wanted to change the law then of course the Government would facilitate doing that in a way that was legally effective.”

However, there has been no indication from Downing Street that parliamentary time is going to be found for such a vote before the next general election.

Dame Esther, who has Stage 4 lung cancer, revealed her thinking to the BBC’s Today Podcast before Christmas, saying: “I have joined Dignitas. I have in my brain thought, well, if the next scan says nothing’s working I might buzz off to Zurich – but it puts my family and friends in a difficult position because they would want to go with me.

“And that means that the police might prosecute them. So we’ve got to do something. At the moment, it’s not really working, is it?”

She added that if she was prime minister “I would get them to do a free vote on assisted dying. I think it’s important that the law catches up with what the country wants.”

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Sleep with co-star to save my movie, film producer told Sharon Stone

Sharon Stone has named the producer who allegedly put pressure on her to have sex with a co-star so they would have better “chemistry on screen”.

The Basic Instinct actress, 66, claimed Robert Evans had encouraged her to sleep with Billy Baldwin while they were shooting the 1993 thriller Sliver in order to boost his performance in front of the camera.

Evans, who won an Oscar for Chinatown in 1975, apparently told her that sleeping with her on-screen lover would “save the movie” and “get things back on track”.

Stone said she was seen as the film’s “real problem” because she did not want to have sex with Baldwin and had encouraged the studio to hire a better actor instead.

She claimed that Evans, who was married seven times and died in 2019, called her into his office to put pressure on her.

Stone told the Louis Theroux Podcast: “He called me to his office. He had these very low 70s/80s couches, so I’m essentially sitting on the floor when I should have been on set.

“And he’s running around his office in sunglasses explaining to me that he slept with Ava Gardner and I should sleep with Billy Baldwin, because if I slept with Billy Baldwin, Billy Baldwin’s performance would get better, and we needed Billy to get better in the movie because that was the problem.

“The real problem with the movie was me because I was so uptight, and so not like a real actress who could just f— him and get things back on track,” she added. “The real problem was I was such a tight a—.”

Evans was widely praised as a visionary for his production work, including in the first two Godfather films.

But his career declined as his drug addictions took hold and in 1980 he was given a suspended prison sentence for cocaine trafficking.

Stone recalled the incident in her 2021 memoir, The Beauty of Living Twice, but did not name Evans or Baldwin at the time.

She wrote: “He walked back and forth in his office with the balls falling out of the spout and rolling all over the wood floor as he explained to me why I should f— my co-star so that we could have on-screen chemistry.

“Nobody’s that good in bed. I felt they could have just hired a co-star with talent, someone who could deliver a scene and remember his lines.”

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, Baldwin said: “Not sure why Sharon Stone keep talking about me all these years later?

“Does she still have a crush on me or is she still hurt after all these years because I shunned her advances? Did she say to her gal pal Janice Dickinson the day after I screen tested and ran into them on our MGM Grand flight back to New York.

“I’m gonna make him fall so hard for me, it’s gonna make his head spin. I have so much dirt on her it would make her head spin but I’ve kept quiet.”

He added: “The story of the meeting I had with Bob Evans imploring him allow me to choreograph the final sex scene in the photo below so I wouldn’t have to kiss Sharon is absolute legend.

“Wonder if I should write a book and tell the many, many disturbing, kinky and unprofessional tales about Sharon? That might be fun.”

Sliver was widely criticised when it was released, earning Razzie and Stinker awards for the worst film of the year.

‘No suspense, no drama, no logic’

One review lamented there was “no suspense, no drama, no tension, no logic” and called Baldwin’s performance “unbearably flat”.

Stone also told the podcast that she lost custody of her adopted son, Roan, because of her role in Basic Instinct, filmed a year before Sliver.

In one famous scene, her character is being interrogated by the police when she slowly uncrosses and crosses her legs, revealing that she is not wearing any underwear.

More than a decade later, a judge asked Roan during a custody battle if he knew that “your mother makes sex movies?”.

He eventually decided that the eight-year-old should stay with Phil Bronstein, Stone’s former husband. The couple had adopted Roan in 2000 following a string of miscarriages.

Stone said the loss of her son left her in “shock”, causing her to stop eating and eventually ending up in hospital.

Referring to the scene, she said: “Because of that, people tried to diminish me as a person [for] playing this incredibly powerful, manipulative, sociopathic character and for playing it well.

“But because you saw this quarter of a frame up my skirt, they wanted to diminish me as a human being, me personally, the woman who played the part. And I mean, I lost custody of my child over that.

“The judge said that I made sex films. The judge asked my tiny child if he knew that his mother made sex films. I was in shock.

“I ended up in the Mayo Clinic with an extra heartbeat in the upper and lower chambers of my heart, because I just stopped eating.”

She added: “I didn’t even know what was happening to me. I was just so confused that I could play a part for three months and lose my child.”

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Sandhurst military academy trainee cleared of raping colleague

A trainee British Army officer at Sandhurst military academy has been cleared of raping a female colleague.

Officer Cadet Harry Waters, 24, had been accused of carrying the young woman upstairs “princess style” and raping her on his bed at his family home.

The officers-in-training had shared a “passionate” kiss downstairs on the sofa, a military court was told.

But Officer Cadet Waters, who claimed his fellow cadet climbed on top of him and consented to sex, has now been cleared of rape after a seven-day trial at Bulford Military Court, Wilts.

The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst – whose alumni include Princes William and Harry – is responsible for training the British Army’s officers but in recent years the Berkshire institution has been rocked by sex abuse scandals.

The court had heard Officer Cadet Waters invited a group of cadets to his family’s home in Guildford, Surrey, for a weekend while his parents were away.

The incident came after a day of heavy drinking, which the woman, who can’t be named for legal reasons, was not accustomed to.

Rupert Gregory, prosecuting said the others went to bed, leaving Officer Cadet Waters and the alleged victim alone, and that the pair started kissing before he carried her upstairs “princess style” and the two had sex.

But in a police interview, Officer Cadet Waters claimed she “climbed” on him on the sofa and he asked her: “Do you want to? I don’t have a condom.”

The court heard the morning after the incident, downstairs at the house, Officer Cadet Waters was “regretful”. He told a male cadet who was staying there: “I know, I’m stupid.”

About four months later, after speaking with the Padre at Sandhurst, the cadet wrote a letter to Officer Cadet Waters accusing him of sexually assaulting her when she was “so drunk she could not walk” and then reported it to military police.

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Live UK ministers were ‘afraid’ of Nicola Sturgeon, says Drakeford – watch live

Ministers in the UK Government were “afraid” of dealing with Nicola Sturgeon during the pandemic and avoided discussions with her, Mark Drakeford has told the Covid inquiry.

The Welsh first minister said senior politicians in Westminster were “always anxious” when interacting with Ms Sturgeon which he said was as a result for her ambitions for an independent Scotland.

No specific minister was named by Mr Drakeford although he did stress the then prime minister Boris Johnson was “happy to talk to anybody”.

Speaking about his own relationships with leaders of the devolved nations, Mr Drakeford said: “I had the highest regard for the First Minister of Scotland and The First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland. They were never anything but collegiate people, they took phone calls, they were involved in discussions.

“The UK Government was always anxious about their interactions with the First Minister of Scotland because she did have a different underlying ambition for the future of Scotland and that coloured their attitude towards her.

“She’s also a formidable politician and UK ministers were afraid of her and would rather not have been engaged in a confrontation or dialogue with her. That wasn’t true of the Prime Minister, he was happy to talk to anybody and I don’t think he avoided discussions for that reason. “

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