The Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Wright QC, has today announced that he is minded to accept News UK’s application to vary the undertakings attached to the 1981 Times merger. This is subject to review of other undertakings attached to the deal, and another public consultation.
If successful, the application would ostensibly allow for The Times and Sunday Times to share journalists and resources.
Hacked Off’s response to the consultation argued:
- Allowing journalists to be “rationed out” between the titles would inevitably result in a reduction in quality, and potentially, increase redundancies;
- Reduced plurality was also a risk;
- The legislative side-effect of altering the undertakings meant that all of them were less enforceable – jeopardizing editorial independence at the titles.
One anonymous response to the consultation, published today, was submitted by “a journalist who has worked for one of the newspapers for the last 10 years”.
Criticising the application, their submission said:
“Allowing News UK to integrate The Times and The Sunday Times in the manner proposed can be fully expected to significantly increase the demands on an already stretched reporting staff… amalgamating the titles will result in significant employee redundancies at all levels of both organisations”.
Responding to the Secretary of State’s stated intention to accept the revised undertakings, Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor said:
“The powerful response to the consultation from a Times/Sunday Times reporter, published today, confirms what was feared: that allowing journalists and resources to be rationed out between the titles threatens both quality and plurality at The Times and Sunday Times newspapers.
“In stating that he is minded to accept the revised undertakings, the Secretary of State is substantially rejecting every published response to his department’s consultation on the matter – including those of the journalist writing for one of those titles, and the leading organisation representing journalists across the UK, the NUJ.
“We urge Mr Wright to listen to the evidence and the views of those in the industry, and change course.”
The Secretary of State also stated that he intends to review other areas of the undertakings related to governance arrangements.
Hacked Off Director Kyle Taylor said, in response:
“In opening up other areas of the undertakings around governance for review, it is essential that the locks on editorial independence are protected from any efforts to water them down.
“Under the ownership of the Murdochs, The Times and Sunday Times’ editorial independence has been repeatedly called into question, while the phone hacking scandal and resulting court cases exposed an utter disregard for corporate governance standards at the similarly Murdoch-owned title News of The World.
“To protect the editorial integrity of The Times and The Sunday Times, Hacked Off call on existing guarantees set out to safeguard the independence of The Times and Sunday Times newspapers to be protected and strengthened in any further variation of the undertakings”
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