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The Times and Sunday Times editorial merger gets green light | Business News

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The government has signalled that the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Times and Sunday Times newspapers should be able to merge their editorial teams.

Jeremy Wright, secretary of state for media, said on Thursday that he was “minded” to allow the two broadsheets to share resources, after they were compelled to remain separate by the Department for Trade in 1981, as a condition of Mr Murdoch’s ownership.

News UK, which is a subsidiary of Mr Murdoch’s News Corp media empire, filed an application to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in January, requesting that the papers be allowed to merge resources.

At the time, the company said it considered such sharing of resources to be “a necessary step to mitigate the financial challenges that the two titles will face going forward, without making cuts that could impact upon their quality”.

News UK sees the merger of the papers’ newsroom and editorial resources as a defensive move against a backdrop of shrinking print newspaper readership and the domination of digital advertising by Facebook and Google.

The Times
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Jeremy Wright said he was ‘minded’ to allow the two broadsheets to share resources

Mr Wright said he will now accept News UK’s application for a “variation” from the 1981 stipulation to pool the papers’ resources because there had been “a material change” in industry circumstances over the 38 years that Mr Murdoch has owned the publications.

“I have also concluded that the change of circumstances justifies the variation, as the effect of News UK’s proposed changes would not, in my view, materially impact on the public interest,” he said.

He added in a statement that the existing governance arrangements agreed in 1981 “lacked clarity and certainty” regarding roles and responsibilities.

“Before agreeing the application I am therefore of the view that these arrangements need to be suitably updated and enhanced to reflect corporate best practice,” he said.

“I have asked DCMS officials to discuss these issues with News UK and to consider new proposals from News UK to update the proposed undertakings to address my concerns.

“Should News UK be able to offer revised undertakings which meet my concerns, I will, as required in legislation, consult on the final form of the undertakings before deciding whether or not to accept them.”

News UK said: “We welcome the secretary of state’s acknowledgement that a material change of circumstances since 1981 justifies the variation which we have proposed to the Times’ undertakings and that the secretary of state is minded to accept News UK’s application.

“The Times and The Sunday Times are committed to remaining as separate newspapers but persistent cost pressures facing our industry means both titles need the freedom and ability to work more closely to avoid unnecessary duplication. We are now engaging with the DCMS on any further relevant updates.”

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