Uber has courted top media barons across Europe and India with the aim of using their power to get more favorable treatment from governments, leaked documents revealed. It asked current media investors to lobby on its behalf and offered others important stakes in the company.
The tech company’s lure offensive is targeted at owners of publications including the UK’s Daily Mail, France’s Les Echos, Italy’s La Repubblica and L’Espresso, Germany’s Die Welt and Bild and the Times of India. The German deal was discussed internally as a way of gaining political “support and influence” in Germany and Brussels, according to Uber files, a leak of more than 124,000 Guardian documents.
In the winter of 2015-16 the company made what it called a “cash plus media for equity” deal with the newspaper’s leading publisher Axel Springer, the owner of Die Welt and Bild, selling a $ 5m stake. The adjustment was not made public until 2017. Uber also announced a similar partnership with Bennett, Coleman & Co, the owner of the Times of India group, in early 2015.
Documents show that for Uber, money is second only to the influence of media companies in the corridors of power. Uber faced bans in both countries during the deals: in Germany it was accused of illegal operations in major cities and in India its license was suspended following a well -known case in 2014 in which a Uber driver raped a passenger.
Uber also called on the influence of one of its earlier investors, Italian industrial and media magnate Carlo De Benedetti, who helped gain access to then -prime minister, Matteo Renzi, when the law affected the market. a taxi was considered in early 2016, Uber’s files reveal. De Benedetti was the publisher of the influential daily La Repubblica and the weekly news L’Espresso at the time, titles he had already sold.
With investors queuing to put money into the company before its float on the stock market, Uber executives discussed attracting those who brought more money to the table. The political influence of media barons rather than the desire for editorial coverage was what Uber sought.
Mark MacGann, Uber’s former head of European policy, said: “We don’t really need the money, we believe we’re doing them a favor by taking their money, because we want the highest level of political access and influence with money. ”
The leaked documents revealed how in December 2015, an Uber senior executive emailed its communications chief, Rachel Whetstone, about discussions with Axel Springer: “They were very interested in a small (i.e. $ 5m) media and cash for equity deals… For us the key value here is their support and influence in Germany and Brussels.
“They did a lot to help [another tech company] with a policy in Germany and will send samples. “
Whetstone replied: “I think having Springer onside is very important if we are to make progress in Germany. They are used to being pretty close to Taxi. So anything we can do to get them to work will be great … I believe that they will really do things promptly to help – according to De Benedetti’s lines. “
Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick was given a prominent platform to speak at an annual conference for business leaders in June 2016 organized by the upmarket daily Die Welt.
In France, when Uber faced regulatory hurdles in early 2015, it courted billionaire owner of luxury goods corporation LVMH Bernard Arnault. LVMH is the parent company of French financial daily Les Echos.
Documents show MacGann wrote to another senior Uber executive: “So I brokered the investment meeting for SW [Travis Kalanick] and Bernard Arnault in Paris, because we are courting Arnault as a strategic investor so that he can influence France’s regulatory situation. ”
A third Uber executive wants the assurance that Arnault will bring in more money. “If we guys do this we need some credible assurance from Arnault that they will lobby on our behalf or we will think about certain conditions,” he emailed.
Arnault, one of the richest people in the world, went on to personally invest $ 5m. He did not respond to requests for comment about any role he may have played in helping Uber.
The Times of India group offered a public engagement opportunity at the time of finalizing its deal with Uber. The editor-in-chief of its English-language daily Economic Times, Rahul Joshi, offered Kalanick a podium at the Global Business Summit it hosted in January 2015.
Joshi invited Kalanick to file the case for “new regulations for new economic companies”, saying Narendra Modi’s cabinet members were there to listen to him. Kalanick decided it didn’t fit into his schedule, but said in an email to colleagues that the relationship with the Times of India was important.
That media deal came to Uber under intense pressure after one of its drivers raped a 26-year-old woman in Delhi in December 2014, and accused it of conducting poor background checks on workers. Uber was allowed to resume operations in Delhi in late January 2015, agreeing to conduct more safety checks.
Times of India chairman Sivakumar Sundaram has denied that the company has facilitated any form of political access or efforts to change the law for Uber. The investment partnership is purely related to advertising and marketing, he said, and does not have any influence on its journalism. “Uber functionaries who are part of any business summit have nothing to do with Times Group journalism,” he added.
In Italy, De Benedetti hosted Uber’s vice president for policy, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, along with MacGann and Uber Italy’s general manager for dinner at his grand private residence in Rome in September 2015. Uber’s lobbying effort was called “Italy- Operation Renzi” in internal emails.