On March 25, 2010 the failing Independent newspaper was bought for £1 ($1.30) by the Russian Lebedev family. Since then, father-and-son team Alexander and Evgeny have invested over $140m and the newspaper – now an online-only publication – has been revitalized while maintaining its traditional pro-free speech, left-wing approach to reporting.
The recent politicization of young people in the UK – driven by their defeat in the EU membership referendum when young people voted overwhelmingly in favor of remaining a member – is one of the driving forces behind the media outlet’s recent success. By positioning itself as a left-wing, online-only media outlet friendly to younger people and – crucially – friendly to Jeremy Corbyn, the political darling of the younger generation, the outlet has captured the attention of the many young Remain voters who felt disillusioned with the British political elite.
The recent addition of a well-connected Saudi millionaire to the shareholder lineup is therefore concerning. Saudi Arabia is not exactly regarded as being a bastion of free speech and left-wing, liberal politics and the Independent has historically been one of the harshest mainstream critics of human rights abuses across the Middle East. The involvement of a Saudi national – who also works for one of the largest government-controlled investment banks in the region – is likely to threaten the traditional leanings of The Independent and risks alienating its domestic market in a bid for expansion into the Middle East.
For the planned expansion into the Middle East the direction of one of the UK’s most left-wing newspaper will undoubtedly have to change considerably. The Independent as we know it in the UK would likely cease to exist and the Lebedev family risks losing its entire domestic reader base in order to start operations in a region that, by anyone’s standards, is not particularly keen on freedom of the press.