Business Irish

Monday 19 March 2018

News International to merge Times titles as Editor Harding steps down

NEWS International ousted James Harding as editor of The Times as it paved the way to merge the newspaper with The Sunday Times.

Senior executives at Rupert Murdoch’s British newspaper operation have made informal approaches to the UK Government to seek permission to restructure the papers as a single, seven-day news operation.

News International is currently bound by undertakings Mr Murdoch gave the UK Government when he acquired The Times to keep the two titles separate. However, News International executives have sounded out Government figures to see if they can be released from the legal agreement, which is signed by Mr Murdoch and sits in the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

A source within News International said that the newspaper group was “uniquely handicapped” by not being allowed to consider merging its titles. “We are uniqely disadvantaged in terms of trying to balance the books and make the newspapers viable in the long term,” the source said.

Mr Harding resigned from the Times yesterday at the request of the board, with what is understood to have been a £1.3m (€1.6m) pay-off. “It has been made clear to me that News Corporation would like to appoint a new editor of The Times,” he said.

It is understood that Mr Murdoch was unhappy at the way that the newspaper had covered the News of the World phone hacking scandal, particularly in recent months. Mr Harding will leave at the end of the year, and is in discussions about taking a job elsewhere in Mr Murdoch’s media empire.

John Witherow, editor of The Sunday Times, is expected to replace Mr Harding at the loss-making daily, whilst Mr Witherow’s deputy, Martin Ivens, is thought to be in line to take the helm of the more successful Sunday title, until News International gets permission for a full merger.

By Katherine Rushton

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