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New UK Times editor raises Murdoch titles merger prospect

19 january 2013, 16:07
0
John Witherow. ©REUTERS
John Witherow. ©REUTERS
The editor of British newspaper The Sunday Times was appointed Friday as acting editor of its sister title The Times, raising speculation that media baron Rupert Murdoch may seek to merge the two, AFP reports.

News International, Murdoch's British newspaper publishing branch, announced that South African-born John Witherow, 60, who has edited the Sunday broadsheet for 18 years, will take temporary charge of The Times with immediate effect.

But the announcement only came after the independent national directors of Times Newspapers Holdings Ltd refused to accept the nomination as a permanent appointment.

News International is obliged to preserve the separate identities of the two papers by legal undertakings given when Murdoch purchased The Times in 1981.

The company approached the British government informally last year about enabling closer cooperation between the titles.

News International chief executive Mike Darcey said the company welcomed the directors' "clear understanding of the very difficult financial position of our newspapers and therefore the need to address the undertakings given in 1981.

"A thorough assessment of the undertakings will enable them to make recommendations to us and to government as to how the newspapers can be structured in order to reduce their costs and become economically viable."

He said Witherow was being put on leave from The Sunday Times and made acting editor of The Times "effective immediately, and subject to formal approval as editor by the independent directors".

Martin Ivens steps up from deputy editor to become acting editor of The Sunday Times.

James Harding, 43, stepped down as editor of The Times on December 12 last year, saying it was clear that News International wanted to appoint someone new to the post.

News International also owns The Sun tabloid, Britain's biggest-selling newspaper. Murdoch closed down its Sunday sister title News of the World in July 2011 following the eruption of the phone-hacking scandal.

Murdoch swiftly turned The Sun into a seven-days-a-week newspaper, breaking the mould in Britain, where daily papers have separate Sunday stablemates.

The British newspaper industry is at a crucial juncture after a judge-led inquiry into press ethics triggered by the hacking scandal recommended a new system of self-regulation underpinned by law.

Murdoch plans to break his News Corporation empire into two companies, one with the fast-growing film and television operations, to be named Fox Group, and the other -- retaining the News Corp. name -- managing news and publishing assets.

The split is partly seen as a sop to shareholders angered by the reputational damage and costs inflicted by the phone hacking scandal.

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