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April 23, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:12am

Jewish Chronicle under new ownership as consortium’s ‘very generous’ offer accepted

By Charlotte Tobitt

A consortium of business and media figures, led by former Number 10 chief spinner Sir Robbie Gibb, has been successful in its bid to buy the 180-year-old Jewish Chronicle.

The sale was agreed last night after former owner the Kessler Foundation placed the newspaper into liquidation.

The consortium will now establish a charitable trust to oversee the newspaper, appointing trustees who “command the respect of the community, and have demonstrated commitment to editorial independence and impartiality”.

The foundation’s original plan had been to buy the assets and merge the Chronicle with its rival the Jewish News, but this was thwarted as the swiftly-assembled consortium made a considerably larger bid.

Alan Jacobs, former chairman of the Chronicle, said today that efforts were made by the Kessler Foundation to match the consortium’s “very generous” offer, but there was “insufficient appetite” from potential donors to do so.

“The past weeks have been very difficult for the JC’s staff and I would like to thank all of them, in particular the unsung heroes whose names do not appear in bylines, for all their hard work in keeping the show on the road and for handling the uncertainty with stoicism,” Jacobs wrote today.

As a result of the new ownership, Stephen Pollard will stay on as editor and maintain the current direction of the newspaper.

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In an open letter, Pollard said: “For most of my time as editor, the JC has been produced despite huge financial and business uncertainty.

“It is a tribute to our staff that readers would have been unaware of this, as our commercial team produced near miracles to keep the show on the road and because the paper itself contained consistently outstanding journalism.

“That uncertainty is now at an end. For the first time in many years we have backers who are committed to investing in journalism and to making the JC and even better and more essential reads.”

All creditors, including staff, will be paid in full and millions of pounds of investment have been pledged over the next few years.

The consortium has also promised “fair and full redundancy” to any staff members that it is unable to keep on.

David Wolfson QC, chairman of the current Jewish Chronicle Trust, which was charged with maintaining standards and editorial independence at the newspaper, said: “The trust’s sole aim has been to see the JC survive and flourish in good hands.”

Wolfson added that the trust believed the consortium’s bid to be the “best way to keep the JC’s heart beating” in the circumstances.

The consortium includes ten named individuals, all understood to be contributing funding alongside unnamed donors from the Jewish community, led by Sir Robbie Gibb, the BBC’s former head of political output and ex-comms director for Theresa May at Number 10.

Others involved include former Panorama journalist John Ware, broadcaster Jonathan Sacerdoti, John Woodcook, who was formerly political spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross.

They said in a statement: “Britain’s Jewish community deserves a general interest periodical with the breadth and stature of the Jewish Chronicle. It is a vital pillar of communal life and must have a secure, sustainable, and independent future.

“The newspaper industry is experiencing severe financial difficulties across the developed world, and the Jewish Chronicle would have disappeared but for philanthropic support.

“We are not treating the Jewish Chronicle as a commercial venture but as a community asset.”

The Chronicle was given a cash injection of seven figures last summer to turn around its fortunes after facing a “grave” threat of closure due to a series of financial losses.

Its owners said last month that despite the “heroic efforts” of the editorial and production teams, it had “become clear that the business will not be able to survive the impact of the current coronavirus epidemic in its current form”.

The Jewish News is continuing to operate separately after its owner took it out of liquidation when the consortium’s plans emerged last week and scuppered merger plans that had been underway for the past six months.

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