The group behind a think-tank that became a vocal advocate of a hard Brexit is in talks to buy a big stake in GB News, a new current affairs broadcaster that wants to challenge long-standing industry players.
Sky News has learnt that Legatum, a Dubai-based group founded by Christopher Chandler, a New Zealand-born billionaire, is among a number of parties in detailed talks with GB News executives.
Media industry sources said this weekend that Legatum – which is best known for the annual Prosperity Index produced by the Legatum Institute, the right-wing think-tank that it established in 2007 and continues to receive financial support from it – could plough up to £20m into the new station.
If an investment on that scale were to materialise, it would give Legatum an identical stake to Discovery, the American group which has agreed to anchor a £60m fundraising to get GB News off the ground.
Other potential investors in the channel, which is to be chaired by Andrew Neil, the veteran political journalist, include the multibillionaire Reuben family.
A source close to the discussions said that GB News had yet to finalise terms with any prospective investors, but said that it hoped to do so early in the new year.
An investment from the Dubai-based company would be notable because of the politics of the Legatum Institute, which supported Britain’s exit from the EU single market and the customs union.
Mr Chandler, who reportedly became a Maltese citizen in 2016, established Legatum a decade earlier.
It describes its mission as being “to invest its ideas, capital and energy into companies and people it believes will shape the future for the better”.
The group’s investment arm, Legatum Capital, acquires stakes in companies in the consumer, technology and finance sectors.
It also operates a series of cause-specific funds, including one aimed at eradicating several tropical diseases, and another promoting education for disenfranchised children – and claims to have improved the lives of more than 240 million people globally.
Legatum’s growing profile has not been without controversy, however.
In 2018, the Legatum Institute Foundation was criticised by the Charity Commission for breaching rules banning charities from political activities – having persuaded the watchdog that it should be granted charitable status in 2010.
The think-tank, which operates as “an independent educational charity”, is now run by Baroness Stroud, a former special adviser to Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative Party leader and prominent member of the Brexit-supporting European Research Group.
A Legatum spokesman declined to comment on its talks with GB News.
In an email, the spokesman said that “neither [Dubai-based holding company] Legatum not any of its partners took a public position on Brexit”.
“We are not ‘Brexit-backers’, nor did we campaign in any way, fund or support those who wished to leave the European Union.”
Legatum’s interest in buying a stake in GB News will inevitably intensify scrutiny of the new TV operation, which is aiming to bring a distinctive approach to an industry in which the BBC and Sky News are long-established rivals.
The recruitment of Mr Neil – who described GB News as “the most exciting thing to happen in British television news for more than 20 years” – was seen as evidence of the seriousness of its founders’ plans.
It has been set up by media industry figures including Andrew Cole, a director of Liberty Global, and Mark Schneider, who also founded parts of what went on to become the American tycoon John Malone’s telecommunications empire.
The new channel is to be run as chief executive by Angelos Frangopoulos, a former Sky News Australia executive.
Discovery, the American media group, has committed £20m to fund GB News’ launch, with a £60m target said to be significantly oversubscribed.
A recruitment drive to appoint dozens of journalists now under way, while the location of its headquarters is also being finalised.
GB News is being developed with the internal tagline “rent the news, own the personalities and analysis”, and is expected to pitch a right-wing perspective on news and current affairs – although it will be obliged to adhere to the media regulator Ofcom’s impartiality rules.
A former editor of The Sunday Times, Mr Neil was a long-standing stalwart of Rupert Murdoch’s UK media interests.
Mr Murdoch, whose companies were responsible for the launch of Sky and for many years were the largest shareholders in Sky News’ owner, is also preparing to establish a standalone TV news operation in the UK.
Lord Sugar and Piers Morgan are among those being courted by Mr Murdoch’s News UK to join his new channel, according to reports.
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