Uber offered stock to media barons for political aid, leak reveals | Media

Uber has courted major media barons across Europe and India in a bid to use their influence to win more favorable treatment from governments, leaked documents show. He asked existing media investors to lobby on his behalf and offered others valuable stakes in the company.

The tech company’s charm offensive has targeted owners of publications such as Britain’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 to gain political “support and influence” in Germany and Brussels, according to Uber records, a leak of more than 124,000 documents to the Guardian.

In the winter of 2015-2016, the company entered into what it called a “cash plus media for equity” deal with leading newspaper publisher Axel Springer, owner of Die Welt and Bild, selling a 5 millions of dollars. The arrangement was only made public in 2017. Uber also announced a similar partnership with Times of India group owner Bennett, Coleman & Co in early 2015.

The Uber files is a global investigation based on a trove of 124,000 documents that were leaked to the Guardian by Mark MacGann, Uber's former chief lobbyist in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The data consist of emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley giant's most senior executives, as well as memos, presentations, notebooks, briefing papers and invoices.

The leaked records cover 40 countries and span 2013 to 2017, the period in which Uber was aggressively expanding across the world. They reveal how the company broke the law, duped police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments across the world.

To facilitate a global investigation in the public interest, the Guardian shared the data with 180 journalists in 29 countries via the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The investigation was managed and led by the Guardian with the ICIJ.

In a statement, Uber said: "We have not and will not make excuses for past behaviour that is clearly not in line with our present values. Instead, we ask the public to judge us by what we’ve done over the last five years and what we will do in the years to come."

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What are Uber Files?

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The Uber files are a global investigation based on a trove of 124,000 documents that were leaked to the Guardian by Mark MacGann, Uber’s former chief lobbyist in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The data consists of emails, iMessages and WhatsApp exchanges between the Silicon Valley giant’s top executives, as well as memos, presentations, notebooks, briefing notes and invoices.

The leaked records cover 40 countries and span from 2013 to 2017, when Uber was aggressively expanding across the globe. They reveal how the company has broken the law, tricked police and regulators, exploited violence against drivers and secretly lobbied governments around the world.

To facilitate a global investigation in the public interest, the Guardian shared the data with 180 journalists in 29 countries through the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The investigation was managed and led by the Guardian with the ICIJ.

In a statement, Uber said, “We do not and will not make excuses for past behavior that is clearly inconsistent with our current values. Instead, we are asking the public to judge us on what we have done in the past five years and what we will do in the years to come.”

Thank you for your opinion.

Documents show that for Uber, money was secondary to the influence of media companies in the corridors of power. Uber was facing bans in both countries at the time of the deals: in Germany it was accused of operating illegally in major cities and in India its license was suspended following a notorious 2014 case in which an Uber driver had raped a passenger.

Uber also enlisted the influence of one of its early investors, Italian industry and media mogul Carlo De Benedetti, to help it gain access to then-Prime Minister Matteo Renzi during of the review of legislation affecting the taxi market in early 2016, the Uber files reveal. De Benedetti was then the publisher of the influential daily La Repubblica and the weekly news L’Espresso, titles which he has since sold.

Carlo De Benedetti. Photography: AFP/Getty Images

As investors lined up to invest in the company ahead of its IPO, Uber executives considered attracting those who brought more than just money to the table. It was the political influence of the media barons rather than preferential editorial coverage that Uber sought.

Mark MacGann, former head of European policy at Uber, said: “We didn’t really need the money, we thought we were doing them a favor by taking their money, because we wanted access and influence. high-level politics that came with the money.”

Leaked documents reveal how, in December 2015, a senior Uber executive emailed its communications manager, Rachel Whetstone, about discussions with Axel Springer: the value here would be their support and influence in Germany and in Brussels.

“They claim to have done a lot to help [another tech company] with politics in Germany and will send examples.

Whetstone replied: “I think Springer’s presence is very valuable if we want to progress in Germany. They have traditionally been somewhat close to Taxi. So anything we could do to work with them would be great… I think they’ll do things proactively to help – like De Benedetti.

Rachel Whitstone.
Rachel Whitstone. Photography: Alan Davidson/Rex/Shutterstock

Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick was given a prominent platform to speak at an annual conference for business leaders in June 2016 hosted by the upmarket daily Die Welt.

In France, as Uber faced regulatory hurdles in early 2015, it courted the billionaire owner of luxury goods company LVMH, Bernard Arnault. LVMH is the parent company of the French financial daily Les Echos.

Documents show MacGann wrote to another senior Uber executive: ‘So I brokered the investment meeting for TK [Travis Kalanick] and Bernard Arnault in Paris, since we are courting Arnault as a strategic investor to influence the French regulatory situation.

A third Uber executive wanted assurances that Arnault would bring in more than money. “If we guys do this, we either need a credible assurance from Arnault that they will lobby on our behalf, or we think of some conditions,” he emailed.

Arnault, one of the richest men in the world, then personally invested $5 million. He did not respond to requests for comment on what role he might have played in helping Uber.

The Times of India Group offered a PR opportunity around the time its deal with Uber was being finalized. The editor of his English-language daily the Economic Times, Rahul Joshi, offered Kalanick the platform for the Global Business Summit he was hosting in January 2015.

Travis Kalanick.
Travis Kalanick. Photography: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Joshi invited Kalanick to make the case for “new regulations for new economy businesses”, saying members of Narendra Modi’s cabinet would be there to hear him. Kalanick decided it didn’t suit his schedule, but said in an email to colleagues that the relationship with The Times of India was important.

That media deal came with Uber under intense pressure after one of its drivers raped a 26-year-old woman in Delhi in December 2014, and he was accused of carrying out weak background checks on workers. Uber was allowed to resume operations in Delhi at the end of January 2015, after agreeing to carry out more security checks.

Times of India President Sivakumar Sundaram denied that the company had facilitated any form of political access or efforts to change Uber’s laws. The investment partnership was for advertising and marketing only, he said, and had no bearing on his journalism. “Uber officials on business summit have no connection to Times Group journalism,” he added.

In Italy, De Benedetti hosted Uber vice president for policy, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, as well as MacGann and the general manager of Uber Italy for dinner at his large private residence. in Rome in September 2015. Uber’s lobbying effort was called “Italy-Operation Renzi” in internal emails.

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