Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1480 - 1499)


Ms Rebekah Wade

  Q1480  Chairman: So it is far too early to tell whether things have changed in any relationships?

  Ms Wade: Yes.

  Q1481  Chairman: You have known him before, presumably—James Murdoch?

  Ms Wade: Yes.

  Q1482  Lord Maxton: We have been talking about all this in the British context, but of course you have a separate Scottish edition in Scotland.

  Ms Wade: Yes.

  Q1483  Lord Maxton: You do not edit that. You have a separate Scottish editor.

  Ms Wade: The process for Scotland and Ireland—and this is talking about our production values—what happens is that we have a basic edition and then we have a Scottish editor and an Irish editor who edit their own editions.

  Q1484  Lord Maxton: But the political line of the Scottish Sun is not necessarily the same as the British Sun.

  Ms Wade: It has been different. At the moment it is the same.

  Q1485  Chairman: One last question on this. Have you ever been criticised by Mr Murdoch for running a particular story, or told that the line you have been taking is a wrong one?

  Ms Wade: Like I said, in 12 years of working very closely with Mr Murdoch we have had our disagreements. He expects us to provide Sun readers with the highest of standards and, on the very rare occasions that we have got something wrong, obviously it is my responsibility.

  Q1486  Chairman: Can you define what you mean by "getting it wrong"? Is it factually getting it wrong?

  Ms Wade: It can be very simple but, yes, on the rare occasions that we have got something wrong, it is my responsibility; it is terrible; it is not what Mr Murdoch expects from his newspaper and not what he expects for Sun readers, who he values very much. So, yes, there have been disagreements. Like any editor, you get praise and you get criticism from your proprietor. That is the way it works.

  Q1487  Chairman: Can you give us some examples of where the disagreements have come, thinking back?

  Ms Wade: Not specific examples, really. Over 12 years, it is quite difficult to remember all the highs and lows. Mr Murdoch is often dismayed by the amount of celebrity coverage I put in my newspaper, particularly on "Big Brother" for example. He cannot understand why I devote so many pages to "Big Brother".

  Q1488  Lord King of Bridgwater: I am with him on that!

  Ms Wade: You are probably all with him on that, actually! You are all looking at me, thinking, "Why isn't Mr Murdoch ... .?"! We disagree about that, because I am a big "Big Brother" fan and he was very surprised that I devoted four pages every day during the last series.

  Q1489  Chairman: And there is nothing more political than "Big Brother" that you have fallen out on?

  Ms Wade: "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" often can cause problems too; whereas we absolutely are in agreement on "Pop Idol", and he thinks that is very good. You know, it is serious stuff here!

  Q1490  Chairman: Serious stuff and, if I dare say so, even on more serious stuff no hint of disagreement has ever come?

  Ms Wade: I am sorry?

  Q1491  Chairman: On even more serious stuff, like policy—

  Ms Wade: I thought you were going to mention "Strictly Come Dancing" then, when you said "more serious stuff"!

  Q1492  Chairman: No, I am not going to mention "Strictly Come Dancing"! I think that in fact you are devaluing the breadth of your coverage because, as you mentioned—

  Ms Wade: You asked me on a disagreement, and he is often dismayed about the amount of celebrity coverage, not just in The Sun but in general. I love our celebrity coverage and I think my readers do.

  Q1493  Baroness Scott of Needham Market: Actually, I do not think any of us would mind celebrity coverage if we knew who any of these people were.

  Ms Wade: Have you been speaking to Mr Murdoch?

  Q1494  Baroness Scott of Needham Market: The term "celebrity" is an interesting one. Turning to the big picture and the National Readership Survey figures, they have shown a huge decline in the number of people reading newspapers of any sort, from 58% of the population in 1992 to 44% in 2006. If you were to look 14 years ahead—you are still quite young, you will probably still be working for Mr Murdoch somewhere in 14 years—how do you think it is going to look then? The newspaper industry generally.

  Ms Wade: It is quite interesting. Yesterday, I was visiting a newspaper company in Europe. We are all trying to work out the integration issue and everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing. With the integration of the newsroom, some people have had great success and some people not. I was reading something about worldwide newspaper circulation, which surprised me. Worldwide newspaper circulation is up 13% and there are now 10,000 publications—more publications than ever before—which paints a very healthy picture worldwide. Most of you know that that is probably India; but, if you take here for example, I think that we have a very robust market. A lot of editors who have sat before you have, not blamed, but explained away declining circulations on the internet. That is not exactly my view. I think the internet plays a part in that but, more interestingly, the one thing that has led to my circulation decline or contributed to my circulation decline are newspapers themselves—in the form of free. If you had a graph in front of you, you would see that we now have—and I can check this figure—about 2.2 or 2.3 million free newspapers every day in the UK. They are being read by newspaper readers. They may not be paying for them but they are still reading a newspaper. Metro International have something like four million people under the age of 35 reading their newspapers. I would say that free newspapers have had a huge effect on paid-for newspapers; but if you take the whole lot, and say you take the London area for example, there are more people in London physically reading a newspaper than ever before. We have Metro, London Lite, thelondonpaper. I think that is quite a healthy view. It is not a healthy economic model going forward, because the free model is completely reliant on the advertising industry. As I said to you, it is no secret that The Sun is very profitable; in fact, I think one of the most profitable newspapers in the world. That profitability enables me to have probably one of the biggest editorial budgets to spend and invest in journalism and in the written word. Going forward in your 14 years, that economic model has to remain to maintain high-quality journalism, and that is across all newspapers. What we have to do is look at the platforms that we put some content onto, which at the moment is obviously the internet, and we have just recently started a mobile edition. At the moment, the economic model of the internet cannot replicate a newspaper, with cover price revenue and advertising revenue coming in; so we have to look at the internet and see how we can monetise that. As I say, the most important thing is to keep reinvesting in journalism and, again, we are very lucky at The Sun that Mr Murdoch absolutely believes in investing in journalism. Personally, I am actually quite upbeat about the future of newspapers.

  Q1495  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Can I go back to the question about free sheets? Just to be clear, are you saying that you think that the rise of the free sheet newspapers, particularly, as you have mentioned, the London-based ones, has had a particular impact on your circulation or are you talking about the impact that they have had on newspapers in general?

  Ms Wade: Certainly on newspapers in general, but if you were to look at the type of newspaper these frees are—Metro, London Lite, thelondonpaper—then I think you yourself would come to the conclusion that The Sun and the Daily Mail territory—

  Q1496  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Would be most likely to suffer.

  Ms Wade: ...would be most likely to suffer.

  Q1497  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: That would indeed be my view. I wanted to ask you this, therefore. I think I am right in saying that at least one of those free sheets that you mention comes out of the News International stable, does it not?

  Ms Wade: Yes, it does.

  Q1498  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: What is the relationship between those two publications? On the face of it, it looks as though News International has promoted a free sheet which is damaging its most valuable asset.

  Ms Wade: That is not necessarily the thought process. The fact is, they are another newspaper in the group and we all have our very individual territory. I do not get involved with thelondonpaper and thelondonpaper does not get involved in The Sun. I edit The Sun. We do not even share the same printing press. So it is a very separate organisation and, as I said, the decision to launch thelondonpaper was taken by Les Hinton.

  Q1499  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: I understand that; but given, as you have implied, it and its competitors have modelled themselves quite noticeably on the kind of journalism that you and the Daily Mail tend to go for, in those circumstances what do you feel about the fact that News International has launched a free sheet which is eating into your circulation?

  Ms Wade: I think that you have to be quite grown-up about this really. There is a market out there for free sheets. We launched a paper, so did Associated Newspapers. If it was not us, it would have been them; it could have been the Express, it could have been Trinity Mirror. There is a market there and we produced a newspaper. Actually, thelondonpaper is very different to The Sun but, as I say, there is a market there for it.

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