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Jeff Zucker declares ‘Andrew Neil is a hypocrite’

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Jeff Zucker declares ‘Andrew Neil is a hypocrite’

Jeff Zucker told The News Agents podcast that the Chair of The Spectator Andrew Neil, is a ‘hypocrite’ in his opposition to the RedBird IMI takeover bid of The Spectator and The Telegraph, saying Mr Neil wanted to be at the heart of the deal…

Media executive, Jeff Zucker, has told The News Agents podcast that the Chair of The Spectator Andrew Neil, is a ‘hypocrite’ in his opposition to the RedBird IMI takeover bid of The Spectator and The Telegraph, adding Mr Neil wanted to be at the heart of the deal.

Speaking exclusively to podcast host Jon Sopel, Mr Zucker also told The News Agents there had been a ‘serious campaign’ against the bid and argued the opposition from parliamentarians comes down to ‘a fundamental misunderstanding of what this deal really is’ arguing that in the event of a takeover editorial staff at The Telegraph will have ‘full independence to cover whatever they think is necessary.’ 

Responding to the criticism of the RedBird IMI takeover by Andrew Neil, Mr Zucker told Jon:

“Andrew Neil, is quite the hypocrite on this… The reality is that Andrew Neil was interested in working with us until we didn’t have any interest in having him work with us. I proposed to him, after we met, that he’d be the Chair of an Editorial Trust Board for The Spectator. He said that was too small for him, because he already essentially had that role.

“But he did say to me that he’d be interested in being the Chair of a combined Editorial Trust Board for The Telegraph, and The Spectator, and suggested that in that role, he could also act as a Shadow Editor of The Telegraph, because he felt the newspaper needed one. He also wanted to know how much such a role would pay. We said, no thanks. And ever since that day, he’s been one of our most vocal critics. And I think that says all you need to know about Andrew Neil. And since I am sure that he’s going to deny this and pretend that didn’t happen, and make all kinds of threats, let me be very clear about something.

“He did not make that request just of me; I am not the only one that he had that conversation with. And I can also tell you, that when I spoke to folks at both The Telegraph and The Spectator about his potential involvement, they were all quite pleased to learn that he would not be around. So now you know the full story. And so please, give me a break with the hypocrisy.”

 Further asked by Jon if Mr Neil wanted to be at the heart of the RedBird IMI deal, Mr Zucker replied:

”He did. I’m not making an accusation; accusations are things that aren’t true. What I’m telling you is a true story of what happened… As I said to you, I’m not the only one that he made the request of that he wanted to chair, a combined Editorial Trust Board of both The Telegraph and The Spectator.”

Commenting on the opposition that RedBird IMI bid has faced from some of the Conservative establishment, Mr Zucker told Jon:

”Obviously, there’s been a serious campaign against us for quite some time now. But we’re committed to the process and we think that we have a very good business plan in place to help both The Telegraph and The Spectator and I think that we have confidence in the process. We are committed to seeing the process through. And I think that if there was a better understanding of really what we’re trying to do here, then there would be less opposition. And we’re confident that in the end that this will work out.”

On opposition from parliamentarians to the takeover, Mr Zucker said:

”As far as those folks in parliament who have voiced their opposition to it, I mean, obviously we respect their ability and their right to do so. I do think, again… it all comes from a fundamental misunderstanding of really what this deal is… This is not the UAE government that is buying The Telegraph. So again, I think this all comes down to a real misunderstanding of the structure of the deal, and what is in place to protect it.”

On the editorial independence of The Telegraph covering stories related to the UAE in the event of a RedBird IMI takeover, Mr Zucker said:

”The editors and the editorial staff of The Telegraph will have full independence to cover whatever story they feel is necessary. And I can tell you that IMI’s leadership, which will have no say understands this, that that is the cost of entry here.

“And so, you know, whatever hypothetical situation comes up, I am confident that The Telegraph will cover aggressively and with all the vigour that The Telegraph has brought through its investigative journalism through the years. So, let’s call it as it is, I am totally comfortable, confident and believe that the coverage of the UAE will be as strong and independent as is necessary.”

 On the competing bid from Sir Paul Marshall and other suitors to takeover The Telegraph, Mr Zucker told Jon:

 ”Now with regard to other suitors for The Telegraph. I think you rightly ask or raise the question, which is something that I think everybody should be asking is, okay, you’re opposed to this bid, then who is the right owner for The Telegraph? We know that the previous owners, the Barclays, is not a viable option. We know that the owners of other newspaper groups like The Daily Mail group or News UK aren’t viable on plurality grounds.

”And, just last week, your podcast, this one that, that I’m speaking to you on right here, exposed finally, that Paul Marshall is unfit to own a newspaper. And that was clear from what your reporting last week exposed. We are clearly the best option for the Telegraph and The Spectator, and the only ones who have said that we will come along, and we will invest at a time when media is under tremendous duress.”

 On his plans to bring The Telegraph’s ‘centre-right brand’ into America, Mr Zucker said:

”What people don’t recognise about The Telegraph is that it’s already a very good business and quite profitable. We also think with the proper amount of investment, we can make that profit even greater. And we have plans to invest at a time when there’s not a lot of investment going into UK media. One of those plans is to invest in the journalism both in the UK and to bring The Telegraph’s centre-right brand into America.

”We actually think that there’s a real opening in the United States, for a very strong centre right brand, much as The Guardian has moved into the US with it’s quite left positioning, we think that the centre-right is a real gap in the marketplace in the US. And I think the brand, and the strength of The Telegraph brand, presents us with an opportunity to really move into America in a significant way. That’s one of the things that we’re excited about. That’s one of the reasons we want to do this deal. That’s one of the things that we think will be great for The Telegraph brand itself. And so, we think that exporting The Telegraph brand outside the UK is something that should excite everybody, both at The Telegraph and in the UK.”

Response from Andrew Neil 

‘Mr Zucker’s memory is playing tricks on him. He never offered me chair of a Spectator editorial trust. He vaguely mentioned being a member of such a trust. I said I’d rather walk than take such a diminution in my current role. That was on January 3rd and ended the matter. He’s never been in touch since. At no stage did I ever suggest I should chair a combined Telegraph/Spectator trust. Why would I? I have no interest in a role solely designed to give Mr Zucker editorial credibility, which he lacks.

As for “shadow” editor of the Telegraph I have never heard such a phrase and have no idea what it means. So, I could hardly suggest it for myself. Mr Zucker, who never used the phrase with me, has clearly invented something which does not exist in UK newspapers or magazines, yet more proof he hasn’t a clue about UK publishing and is merely a frontman for his UAE bankrollers.

I have made it clear I will have nothing to do with it and will walk away in the unlikely event he succeeds in acquiring The Spectator. Mr Zucker says I wanted to know how much I would be paid. That is a lie. At no stage in the two contacts, I’ve ever had with him (one short meeting in NYC, one transatlantic phone call) was there ever a word about remuneration. How could there be when we never came close to agreeing any role for me in his planned operation?

Since Mr Zucker has subsequently made it clear that he will NOT establish a trust for The Spectator (though he will for The Telegraph), then he was offering me a role on a body he does not intend to create. So, I don’t know what he was up to. I’m not sure he does either.’

Listen to The News Agents podcast now on the Global Player

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