Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1460 - 1479)


Ms Rebekah Wade

  Q1460  Baroness Thornton: I mean "you" collectively.

  Ms Wade: You could always call Kelvin. He always enjoys these sessions quite well, so feel free to call him! I would have brought him with me if I had known. I have been an Editor for eight years, so you have eight years to go on. In 1992, I think I was in college.

  Q1461  Chairman: Let me take you up to the absolute present. When the Committee went to New York, we met Rupert Murdoch. He was very frank about the position. He said that whatever the position was with The Times and The Sunday Times—and you remember there were certain conditions placed when they were taken over—he was, and I use the phrase, the "traditional proprietor" when it came to The Sun and the News of the World. You have edited both The Sun and the News of the World. Can we take it then that he sets your political stance?

  Ms Wade: When you saw Mr Murdoch, he did in fact say that he was a traditional proprietor. You were asking him in terms of appointing editors and he was explaining that obviously with The Times there is the independent board of directors. Mr Murdoch appoints the Editor of The Sun and of the News of the World and, in that sense, he is the traditional proprietor. He appointed me the Editor of the News of the World and he then subsequently went on to appoint me Editor of The Sun; but also our previous Executive Chairman, Les Hinton, was very much involved in that appointment process too. That is what I took him to mean when he said he was a traditional proprietor in the sense of The Sun and the News of the World: in the same way that the Rothermeres appoint their editors and the O'Reillys appoint their editors.

  Q1462  Chairman: But I think that he also said to us that he exercised editorial control on major issues.

  Ms Wade: I have not seen that exact quote but when he says he exerts editorial control, in the way that he is a traditional proprietor he appointed me to do both those jobs; and it would be fair to say that I have worked for Mr Murdoch for 18 years and 12 of those years I have either been a deputy editor or an editor. I think it would be fair to say that, before any appointment, he knew me pretty well—any senior appointment. In that way, he would be aware of my views, both social views, cultural views and political views.

  Q1463  Chairman: I am sure you are right that he appoints the editor and I am sure you are right on the factors but, when it comes to an election, who decides who you will support? Is it Mr Murdoch or is it you?

  Ms Wade: I have been Editor for a couple of elections. If you take 2005, where The Sun in the end backed Tony Blair, famously with the Vatican chimney on the top of Wapping and we announced that there would be blue or red smoke—I cannot remember whether we had any yellow smoke even ready, apologies to the Lib Dems!—but that process takes a long, long time. Again, I am sorry to keep repeating myself about The Sun readers but it is a particularly special relationship we do have with them. In the run-up to the election, I was very careful to give the Conservative Party and the Labour Party equal opportunity to show their wares, so to speak, in The Sun, so that Sun readers could make up their own mind by seeing a very fair coverage of both sets of policies. In the end, however, I did talk to Mr Murdoch of course. Mr Murdoch is a lifelong newspaper man; he has also lived through political change both here and in America and Australia; his advice is always exemplary and good. At the same time, I also spent a lot of time talking to Trevor Kavanagh, who was the political editor at the time, and his deputy George Pascal Watson, who has now taken that role, and Les Hinton, our Executive Chairman. The way I edit the paper, I do seek advice. I think that I am actually very lucky to have a traditional proprietor like Mr Murdoch, coupled with always having Les Hinton there as well, who, as you know, was a journalist. Yes, I do seek advice from them and, yes, it is a consensus issue. But I wanted to back Tony Blair; I voted for him; and that is what happened.

  Q1464  Chairman: Cutting through all that, when it comes to it, if Mr Murdoch said in your editorship, "You will back Labour" or "You will back Conservative", that is actually what you would do.

  Ms Wade: If Mr Murdoch told me to back the Lib Dems, I would resign. I cannot imagine that he would but, if he did—

  Q1465  Chairman: I think that we are probably agreed on that!

  Ms Wade: I am sorry, Lib Dems. I am going to be nice about the Lib Dems a bit more, later on! It just does not happen. These are hypothetical questions. I am being very frank with you. This is—

  Q1466  Chairman: They are not that hypothetical because what he told us, and I am quoting from the minutes of our evidence there, was that he "exercises editorial control on major issues, like which party to back in general elections or policy on Europe". That is what he said actually.

  Ms Wade: Take Europe for example—that is quite a good one to bring up—Mr Murdoch was absolutely aware of my views on Europe, I think even before I became Editor of the News of the World, maybe even Deputy Editor. I am very strongly against a federal Europe and the bureaucracy that it creates, and I think that it is hugely damaging to my readers' lives. I am very, very strong on that; probably, in some ways, much stronger than Mr Murdoch's own opinion. So the European campaign absolutely comes from me; but it is not a disagreement between me and Mr Murdoch. That is not one of the occasions where he will ring me up and say, "I think you got it wrong": it comes from me.

  Q1467  Chairman: It comes from you but also it is inconceivable, is it not, that Mr Murdoch would appoint an editor of The Sun who happened to be a great Euro-enthusiastic or even Euro-moderate?

  Ms Wade: I do not know. I am trying to think about what David Yelland's view was. Mr Murdoch appointed me to edit his newspapers and we know each other pretty well. I have worked for him for 12 years, as I said, at a senior level. You really would have to ask him that.

  Chairman: We have asked him. That is why I am quoting to you. It is exactly what he told us.

  Q1468  Lord Inglewood: You have talked about the relationship between yourself and The Sun readership and then about yourself and your proprietor. Who is leading whom about what? Are The Sun readers reading The Sun because it tells them the kinds of things they like, or are you printing what you put in The Sun because that is what you think or you think they want? Or is it everybody, as it were, stroking each other's fur?

  Ms Wade: Again, just trying to explain the process at The Sun, obviously as an editor my job is to edit The Sun and the projection of stories is my decision; but in mind I always have The Sun readers. For example, we had an interview with Gordon Brown in Monday's newspaper. My political editor did the interview at Chequers; I read the copy on Sunday and, talking to George, I felt that, although the Peter Hain stuff was quite interesting in the Westminster village kind of way, Gordon's announcement on the change in legislation on knife crime was something that my readers would be much more interested in; and so that was page 1 of The Sun on Monday. We have had that knife campaign running in the paper for such a long time now that this was actually a victory, I felt, for Sun readers and I wanted to tell them; so I projected it pretty big. It was page 1 and it was in 8-9 of the paper. The Prime Minister talked about a lot of stuff, but I thought that his organ donations copy was also a very interesting debate for the reader. I thought they would want to know that; they would want to know this change of policy; they would want to know about the opt-out instead of an opting-in; so we went to great lengths to explain that. As an editor, I will obviously read copy, look at it and make a judgment on what I think is interesting. If we come back to the knife crime, we have this mechanic in The Sun called "You The Jury" or, when we do Europe, it is "EU The Jury". It is often a very simple question: a "yes" or "no". We were asking them. We asked them, "This is the policy at the moment. This is what we think it should be. Do you agree/disagree?". On the European Constitution, as you know, we campaigned very heavily to have a referendum put into the 2005 manifesto. Again, that was borne out by the reaction of Sun readers. I think that it was at the end of 2004—I can get it for you exactly after this—we launched a bit of a campaign on the constitution and we ran an "EU The Jury" and, by 8.30 that morning, 108,000 Sun readers had rung the phone line. That is huge. The last time we got something like that it was on fuel prices—fuel tax.

  Q1469  Lord King of Bridgwater: I was interested in your argument about Rupert Murdoch's involvement, as though you were rather playing it down, were embarrassed about it and thought these were awkward questions. What is wrong with him actually running your newspaper, in terms of the major policy decisions? He is a major international figure; he has very substantial interests in television and in the media generally, throughout the world. He has a global involvement. Is it not rather excellent that he has this direct involvement to run the overall policy of The Sun?

  Ms Wade: I am not sure how you can take embarrassment from the fact that I said I think I am extremely lucky to have a person of Mr Murdoch's distinction as my proprietor. I am not sure what part of "embarrassment" that is; but, just to reiterate, I am very fortunate to have a proprietor like Mr Murdoch. As you say, not only does he run a global media company but he is an incredibly good journalist, and probably one of the most supportive proprietors that you can ask for. In any kind of crisis, he is always there, as I said earlier, with his very calm, exemplary advice. So I am not sure why you think I have shown embarrassment; it is the opposite. Absolutely, he is someone whose advice I would seek on all manner of subjects—because of his experience and because of what he has done. Mr Murdoch runs a global media company with vast interests all around the world. He travels all the time. He is a very hands-on, not "proprietor", but he is very hands-on in the way he runs his business, which is why it is so successful. So the idea that I talk to him about everything is inconceivable.

  Q1470  Lord King of Bridgwater: How often do you think you speak to him?

  Ms Wade: I think that the contact varies. If I give you an example of a recent conversation with Mr Murdoch, perhaps that will give you a bit of an insight into what kind of conversations they are. The other day we had the New Hampshire primaries. I think it is fair to say that every single UK newspaper went to press with Obama to win. In fact, the idea that Hillary Clinton could make a comeback was inconceivable. The Sun, like the Telegraph and The Times, all had an "Obama Set to Storm" win. At about 1.30 that morning or maybe a bit later, Mr Murdoch called me, just to say, "Are you on the case? Have you seen what's happened? It's an amazing story", which it was—an amazing news story. I said, "Yes, we're on the case. We're changing up. It's very exciting", and we had a conversation about world events; we had a conversation about the reliance on exit polls. I asked him what he thought, why it had happened. He said, "It's really early days"; he was watching it in America.

  Q1471  Lord King of Bridgwater: Okay, that is a very good illustration. Can I just ask you this? You talked about his tremendous global involvement, and he is obviously an extremely busy man. He obviously cannot keep completely in touch with what is happening in this country. You have a huge responsibility. My Lord Chairman has pointed out the enormous circulation that you have. Notwithstanding your suggestion that the policy is determined by all your readers, I think that there are many here on this Committee who would believe that actually you have huge influence and power and it was correctly described in that headline. In that circumstance, what do you think about somebody who is an American citizen, from Australia, trying to cover the world, and trying to have major influence on British political development?

  Ms Wade: I am afraid you are the one who is now sounding embarrassed. Yes, we have a huge readership, and I can tell you that every single person on The Sun puts the readers' best interests at heart. I have a very, very good political team. Most of you know Trevor Kavanagh and my political editor George Pascal Watson. They are very talented and they have their finger on the pulse of Westminster; they are able to spot a policy that will be of interest to our readers, or the opposite: spot a policy which will be very negative for our readers. We all take that responsibility of explaining the Westminster world to 7.7 million Sun readers very, very seriously, and I think that we do a pretty good job.

  Q1472  Chairman: The point that Lord King is making—which I am not sure you have quite addressed at the moment—is that you have a US citizen exercising an enormous amount of influence over British newspapers like your own. Do you regard that as acceptable? Do you regard that as a desirable thing to have taken place? Do you think that, if it was the other way round, the American population would all think that that was a tremendously good idea?

  Ms Wade: Just to explain to you, if we take the four newspapers that Mr Murdoch has here, as Robert Thomson explained his appointment—and that obviously goes for—

  Q1473  Chairman: Yes, we know that.

  Ms Wade: You know that. Mr Murdoch appointed me to edit The Sun and the News of the World, and that is what I do. It is my job. I cannot remember an occasion where I have discussed with Mr Murdoch tomorrow's newspaper in the censorial sense that you keep saying exists and I am telling you that it does not. Obviously I have a regular contact with my proprietor. I discuss all manner of things with him. A lot of those things are commercial things. If you think about it, Mr Murdoch—what has he done for the newspaper industry? Without him, we would see a very different picture. He has invested this year £650 million in new presses.

  Q1474  Lord King of Bridgwater: In which countries?

  Ms Wade: Here.

  Q1475  Lord King of Bridgwater: In the UK?

  Ms Wade: Yes, just last year.

  Q1476  Lord King of Bridgwater: £650 million?

  Ms Wade: £650 million, yes. Not only that, he invests in journalism. There are other newspaper groups in this country that are cutting editorial; I am given a very, very good budget for investigative journalism and for journalists as a whole. We have more journalists now than we have probably ever had. We have specialist journalists; we have a team in Westminster bigger than we ever had; we have political columnists. I have a budget to spend and hire the best quality.

  Q1477  Baroness Thornton: I think that we are still trying to get an answer to the question posed by Lord King. Perhaps I could put it in a different way. Over the next two or three years leading up to the next general election, there is probably going to be a certain amount of competition for Mr Murdoch's attention from the two major parties. If he decides to support David Cameron, will you do so as well?

  Ms Wade: I am sorry, it is a completely hypothetical question.

  Q1478  Baroness Thornton: What is the process that will be followed then?

  Ms Wade: Shall I say what I am doing right now? We had the election-that-never-was in September. I do not know when the next election is and I am sure that no one here knows when it will be. What we are doing at the moment is looking at every initiative that David Cameron or the Prime Minister or any of the Cabinet is releasing, and we are looking at it in terms of benefit to Sun readers. For example, out of the two inheritance tax policies that came out within a week of each other, on balance we felt that George Osborne's was better than Alistair Darling's. When we looked at it carefully and tried to think of the balance for Sun readers, we thought it was a clearer and simpler way and we backed that; and we thought that George Osborne and the Tories had done a very good job. Recently, as I said, on Monday we had an interview with the Prime Minister and we were delighted that the knife legislation had gone through; that it was a brilliant piece of legislation and something our readers had been fighting for, or we have been campaigning for and they have been very interested in. So the process will be, for me and my political team—and also my health team, my crime editor—that we look at everything and see who is going to be the best candidate for Sun readers, whenever the election will be.

  Q1479  Chairman: We have been talking about Rupert Murdoch all this time, but it was two months ago that James Murdoch was appointed Chairman and Chief Executive of the European arm of News Corporation. Presumably you work to James Murdoch now, as opposed to Rupert Murdoch.

  Ms Wade: James has taken over from where Les Hinton, our Executive Chairman, was and, yes, I will. It is not two months actually; he only started at the end of December. However, yes, I had a very strong relationship with Les Hinton and I will work closely with James Murdoch.

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