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Times and Sunday Times owner wants 'small change' to editorial independence rules to give titles 'flexibility to share resources'

The Times and Sunday Times have applied to the Government to ask for more “flexibility to share resources” across the two titles, which have separate editors, editorial teams and newsrooms.

In a statement, Times Newspapers’ owner News UK said it was asking for a “small change” to undertakings first put in place to maintain the independence of both titles when Rupert Murdoch bought them in 1981.

An application has been made to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and will be considered by Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright.

News UK said it was committed to both titles remaining separate, with separate editors, but that change would enable them “to contend with the continual disruption that has faced the media industry in the digital age”.

On the change, Times editor John Witherow said: “The persistent cost pressures facing our industry mean that we need to manage our newsrooms as carefully as possible.

“We need to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult market so that we can continue to build a sustainable future for Times journalism.”

Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens added: “The Sunday Times remains the biggest selling broadsheet in Britain and to protect our distinctive voice we need the freedom to work more closely to avoid duplication and invest more in the agenda-setting journalism we are famous for.”

An email to staff from Ivens was leaked on Twitter earlier alongside a claim that journalists at the two papers are worried the restructuring is  “code for job cuts”. News UK would not comment on any potential staffing cuts.

Press Gazette understands there is no plan to repeat content in the newspapers as a result of the move but that it will allow them to reduce duplication and continue to invest in quality journalism.

In his email to staff, Ivens said: “Our editorial independence and our existence as separate newspapers will not change…” and that both he and Witherow “want to protect the unique character of our newspapers and ensure a sustainable future for your journalism”.

A short meeting on the proposed change is to be held in the Times newsroom today at 4pm, with a summary provided internally to those unable to attend, according to the email.

The National Union of Journalists’ executive council expressed concern at the move during a meeting today, warning that “cuts are likely to follow” if the Culture Secretary grants the amendment.

“The union will be seeking further clarity and consulting members affected about the details contained within the proposals announced,” the NUJ said.

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