Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1753 - 1759)

WEDNESDAY 23 JANUARY 2008

Sir Simon Jenkins

  Q1753  Chairman: Welcome Simon Jenkins. You have edited both the Evening Standard and The Times. We know who your proprietor was at The Times; who was it at the Evening Standard?

  Sir Simon Jenkins: It was the Beaverbrook family and then a man called Victor Matthews.

  Q1754  Chairman: Historically what influence did they have on you as an editor?

  Sir Simon Jenkins: They were very different. The first was a dynastic management on its uppers and their influence was minimal. A certain amount of the tinsel of Beaverbrook still trickled down over the Evening Standard in those days but it did not have much effect on editorial policy.

  Q1755  Chairman: In the old days Beaverbrook was presumably one of the most energetic and involved proprietors that one can imagine?

  Sir Simon Jenkins: Yes. He owned newspapers to propagate opinion. I have to say that I am not totally adverse to that; I do not see why you should not if you want to, they are private property. That is what he did. By the time I was there you had a family in decline. Victor Matthews was a property developer and rather fancied the idea of being a proprietor, certainly fancied the idea of laying down the line but it was completely zany; he would call me to his office and say, "I want to bomb Russia tomorrow," and one would say, "I do not think it is a very good idea," and he would say, "I own the paper." I said, "I still do not think it is a very good idea," and he would say, "All right," but it was absolutely on that level of idiocy.

  Q1756  Chairman: This does not sound like a partnership that was likely to last for a long time.

  Sir Simon Jenkins: It did not, is the answer. The question, I have to say I think these conversations wildly overdo is how far do proprietors influence papers is a source of total fascination to journalism students and regulators, but—

  Q1757  Chairman: And the public.

  Sir Simon Jenkins: I doubt that, frankly, I really do; anyway, let us have it. Rupert Murdoch was a totally different kettle of fish; he, as I am sure others have told you, had a genuinely different view about two of his titles, The Times and Sunday Times from the view he took about The Sun and the News of the World. He did actually operate it in practice. I have to say that is my experience, other editors of The Times under Rupert have had different experiences. My understanding is—and I know most of them—that after Harry Evans' experiences, which were dire, I think Rupert Murdoch did take the view that The Times and the Sunday Times editorships were in charge of their editorial content, at least as far as the views were concerned, possibly with the exception of odds and ends like China.

  Q1758  Chairman: That is quite a big "odd and end", is it not?

  Sir Simon Jenkins: Exceptions can prove rules. You were asking Roy a very good question about how newspapers cover newspapers; it would be quite odd if the newspaper launched an investigation into its own owner's financial affairs—it just would be odd; but—and this would be my major premise—that is why we have ten newspapers. My answer to all these questions is that as long as you have ten newspapers and seven newspaper groups you have the cast iron protection against any of these interference questions, which is plurality.

  Q1759  Chairman: So the policy objective in your view is to have the widest possible range of newspapers owned by different companies or different people?

  Sir Simon Jenkins: Yes.


 
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