Ban on Rupert Murdoch’s interference in Times and Sunday Times ended

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries removes restrictions, potentially paving way for merger of newspapers

Nadine Dorries has removed all legal barriers on Rupert Murdoch interfering in the editorial independence of the Times and the Sunday Times, ending restrictions that have been in place since he bought the newspapers in 1981.

The decision by the culture secretary also clears the way for a potential merger of the two titles, which are currently required to have largely separate editorial teams.

Ofcom had warned that lifting the restrictions “would create the opportunity for greater proprietorial influence over the titles, which could affect free expression of opinion and accuracy of news”.

However, the media regulator also largely accepted the case that there is little incentive for Murdoch to interfere in editorial matters, because if that became public it would undermine the trust of the Times’s readers and cost Murdoch money.

Their owner, News UK, had said the logical conclusion of this argument is that, if there are limited incentives for Murdoch to interfere, then the rule stopping him from interfering should be abolished.


Rupert Murdoch takes control of his father’s Adelaide-based newspaper business after his death, eventually building it into the dominant player in the Australian market.


Moves internationally, beating Robert Maxwell to buy the News of the World, the UK’s highest-selling newspaper, from the Carr family.


Extends influence in British media by buying the Sun and turns it tabloid. By 1977 it overtakes the Daily Mirror as the UK’s highest-selling daily newspaper.


Buys the Times and Sunday Times newspapers, resulting in calls of too much media control.


Enters the world of broadcast, buying the film studio 20th Century Fox and a clutch of local TV stations, which will eventually become the Fox network.


Launches Sky Television, the following year it merges with a rival to form BSkyB, and in 1992 changes the economics of UK sport and broadcasting for ever by taking the Premier League to pay-TV.


A year after closing Today newspaper, which he had acquired from Tiny Rowland in 1987, Murdoch launches Fox News. He had made a failed run at acquiring CNN, which was snapped up by Time Warner. In 2016, Fox News became the US’s most-watched channel on cable TV.


Buys Dow Jones, the owner of the Wall Street Journal, for $5bn, ending the 105-year ownership of the Bancroft family.


Forced to shut News of the World as the 167-year-old title is sacrificed to try to stem the fallout of the phone-hacking scandal. Murdoch is hit with a shaving foam pie by a member of the public while answering questions about the hacking in front of a committee of MPs. The scandal scuppers Murdoch’s first attempt to take full control of Sky, and results in his newspaper and broadcast assets being split into separate companies, News Corp and 21st Century Fox.


Murdoch announces a $71bn deal with Disney to buy most of 21st Century Fox, a move that in effect carves its chief executive, James Murdoch, out of the line of succession. Elder son Lachlan is left as executive heir to the remaining empire, News Corp and the newly formed Fox Corporation.


Comcast outbids a Disney-backed Fox to take control of Sky across Europe for £30bn. Murdoch admits the pay-TV company is the asset he is most sad to relinquish.


A voting technology company lodges a $2.7bn legal action against Fox News, three of its top hosts and former lawyers including Rudy Giuliani, alleging they conspired to spread false claims that the company helped “steal” the US presidential election from Donald Trump.


Murdoch proposes an all-stock merger of News Corp and Fox, having vowed never to reunite the two parts of his empire, nine years after being forced to split them in the wake of the phone hacking scandal.   Mark Sweney

When News UK asked the government to lift the rules, the media business argued that they were outdated in the modern media era and forced the newspapers to absorb more costs than their rivals.

John Witherow and Emma Tucker, editors of the Times and Sunday Times, wrote to the government in support of removing the legal restrictions, saying the changes would make it easier to run a seven-day operation.

Despite this, they sent a joint email to staff on Thursday insisting the titles were remaining distinct at the moment.

They said: “Times and Sunday Times editorial independence continues and is enshrined in the editors’ contracts. The Times and The Sunday Times remain as separate newspapers and there are no plans to merge the titles.”

The announcement comes amid speculation within the Times over who could succeed Witherow as editor of the weekday outlet if he chooses to leave after a decade in the job. Both Tucker and deputy editor Tony Gallagher are tipped for the role.

Times Radio is an upcoming radio station owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is intended to be a commercial rival to BBC Radio 4. The new station will be available on national DAB digital radio but will also try to take advantage of the rapid growth of smart speakers which are making it easier to try new stations.

Times Radio has hired the BBC’s deputy political editor, John Pienaar, to front its new drivetime programme. Stig Abell, the editor of the Times Literary Supplement who is coordinating the launch of the station, said he hoped Pienaar’s hiring would help make it a “new destination for those people hungry for quality reporting and trusted, expert analysis”.

There has been disquiet in the BBC that the station’s launch is being coordinated by Abell, who is helping to poach many of the BBC’s leading presenters while still regularly presenting Radio 4’s flagship arts programme Front Row.

Jim Waterson Media editor

The restrictions were put in place in 1981 by Margaret Thatcher’s government as part of a compromise deal to allow Murdoch to buy the two papers without needing approval from monopoly regulators.

Since then, the Times and Sunday Times had been legally required to keep largely separate editorial teams. Murdoch also nominally had to answer to a group of independent directors on key editorial matters.

In reality, Murdoch was often able to sidestep the restrictions. He appointed new editors of the Times and the Sunday Times in 2013, and the independent directors initially refused to back the decision. Murdoch simply announced his new hires as “temporary acting editors” until an agreement was reached.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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