The Times and Sunday Times merger gets go-ahead from government


Rupert Murdoch’s News UK has been given final approval to share resources across the Times and the Sunday Times, paving the way for journalists to work across both titles and for potential job cuts.

Until now the two publications have operated as strictly independent news outlets, as part of a series of agreements guaranteeing the titles’ editorial independence, signed by Murdoch when he bought them in 1981.

The long-awaited final decision was made on “taking out the trash” day – an informal name for the rush of announcements typically made at the tail end of a parliamentary session or government to avoid scrutiny when attention is elsewhere.

The Hacked Off campaign, the National Union of Journalists, and the Media Reform Coalition all objected to the proposals on various grounds, ranging from the reduction in media plurality to the risk to journalists’ jobs. However, the government agreed with the newspapers’ case that the market had changed substantially since the requirements were imposed almost four decades ago.

News UK has said the titles would continue to be run independently with their own newsrooms and their own editors: John Witherow at the Times and Martin Ivens at the Sunday paper.

“Due to persistent cost pressures, we requested more flexibility so that we can share some resources across the two papers,” the pair wrote in an email to staff on Tuesday afternoon. “As we have stated before we will maintain our distinctive voices but we do need to avoid duplication wherever possible to stay competitive.”

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The two editors said their publications’ future success depended on making their output more flexible and available in other formats such as podcasts: “The two titles have a great future as long as we adapt to the changing media world around us.”

The Times remains the biggest selling daily “quality” print newspaper, while the Sunday Times is the best-selling Sunday newspaper in the same category. But both titles, which are only available online behind a paywall, have been hit by the industry-wide collapse in print newspaper sales.

News UK has previously emphasised that its objective is cost saving and will not change clauses designed to “safeguard the editorial independence of the titles from their proprietor”, with departments such as sport and some back-end functions thought to be under threat.

The culture secretary, Jeremy Wright, agreed to approve the pooling of resources on the condition that the two papers make changes to their governance structures. As part of the agreement the independent directors of the Times will have to provide an annual update to government on corporate governance.

However, the power of the independent directors has often been challenged by Murdoch. In theory he must seek the approval of the independent directors before appointing a new editor, but in 2012 he simply sacked James Harding and replaced him with Witherow as an acting editor until the independent directors backed down.

The Sun, Murdoch’s other main newspaper business, has already told staff to expect substantial cost cuts and redundancies amid falling sales and the continued financial burden of historic phone hacking claims against its parent company.

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