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September 30, 2013

Times and Sunday Times merger ruled out as directors finally approve appointments of Witherow and Ivens

By Dominic Ponsford

The Times Newspapers Independent Directors have finally confirmed the appointments of editors John Witherow and Martin Ivens after accepting an assurance from News UK that it won’t merge The Times and Sunday Times.

Following James Harding’s removal as Times editor at the end of last year News International bosses wanted to appoint long-serving Sunday Times editor John Witherow to replace him, with Sunday Times deputy editor Martin Ivens promoted to editor of that title.

But there has followed a nine-month stand-off between News International bosses (now News UK) and the directors.

The Independent National Directors of Times Newspapers vetoed the appointments, apparently because of concerns that they were part of a move towards merging the two titles. Since then Witherow and Ivens have been doing their new jobs on an 'acting' basis.

When News UK proprietor Rupert Murdoch bought The Times titles in 1981 he gave legal undertakings which included an assurance that the separate integrity of the two titles would be preserved and that only the independent directors could hire and fire editors.

The directors said in a statement that they "have had extended discussions with the management of News UK about the financial prospects of The Times and The Sunday Times and the company’s plans for their future. 

“The Independent National Directors have received new written assurances that satisfy them that the company remains fully committed to maintaining the titles as separate newspapers, as required by the undertakings given to the Secretary of State for Trade by Mr Rupert Murdoch in 1981. 

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“The Independent National Directors are also now satisfied that the financial prospects of the two titles will not in the foreseeable future require the company to take any decisions that might require a change to the undertakings. 

“Accordingly, the Independent National Directors have interviewed the acting editors for a second time and have approved their nomination.

“The Independent National Directors will continue to keep the titles and the undertakings under review.  As and when necessary, they will commission independent audits of any plan that might affect the separate and distinctive characters of the two titles, and through the News UK whistle-blowing facility, staff will be able to raise any concerns about the undertakings with the Independent National Directors. 

“The Independent National Directors will continue to take whatever steps are necessary to discharge their responsibilities as defined in the Articles of Association of Times Newspapers Holdings Limited."

News UK chief executive Mike Darcey said: “News UK welcomes the decision of the Independent National Directors to confirm the appointments of John Witherow as editor of The Times and Martin Ivens as editor of The Sunday Times, both with immediate effect.

 "News UK remains remains fully committed to complying with the undertakings given to the Secretary of State for Trade by Rupert Murdoch in 1981, and I would like to thank the Independent National Directors for their dedication to discharging their responsibilities under the undertakings and their ongoing commitment to the two titles."

The Times Newspapers independent directors are: chairman of The Economist group Rupert Pennant-Rea, former Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley, PR agency director Sarah Bignell, Lady Eccles and former newspaper executive Stephen Grabiner.

Times Newspapers is the only UK quality national newspaper group to resist moves towards seven-day working.

The Telegraph group; Guardian News and Media and The Independent titles have all largely merged their daily and Sunday operations.

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