Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has said he is “minded to” accept a request from Times and Sunday Times publisher News UK to allow the two titles to “share journalistic resources” for the first time since 1981.
News UK has asked for a “small change” to legal undertakings established to maintain the independence of both titles when they were bought by media mogul Rupert Murdoch.
These changes, the publisher has said, will enable the titles “to work more closely to avoid unnecessary duplication” and “contend with the continual disruption that has faced the media industry in the digital age”.
It also pointed to “persistent cost pressures facing our industry” in applying for the changes in January.
News UK has said it is still committed to keeping both the Times and Sunday Times as separate newspapers with separate editors.
The Culture Secretary was consulted in his quasi-judicial role in media merger cases.
He said today that “there has been a material change in circumstances” since 1981 that “justifies the variation” of the undertakings, adding: “I am, therefore, minded to accept News UK’s application.”
But Wright said that the existing arrangements “lack clarity and certainty over roles and responsibilities” and that they needed to be “suitably updated and enhanced to reflect corporate best practice”.
He said Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport officials would consider new proposals from News UK to update the undertakings and address his concerns, with an update to the House of Commons to follow.
“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,” he said.
A spokesperson for 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.”