Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2460 - 2479)

WEDNESDAY 23 APRIL 2008

Mr Paul Myners

  Q2460  Bishop of Manchester: Looking in this whole area, could you make a comment in terms of connecting journalistically with the public on the different size of radio stations and, in particular, the way in which as a media group you relate to them? We have fairly powerful local radio stations, really quite small ones, and then, of course, in Manchester we have got Channel M. How do you view the different sizes of these and their potential in the market in the future?

  Mr Myners: I am very sympathetic about arguments which take us in the direction of plurality and a multiplicity of competition. Each of these businesses will have different models in terms of scale, ambition and revenue. I think large metropolitan titles represent very different challenges from smaller titles. There used to be a time when brewing required huge breweries, and then we saw the emergence of micro-breweries. To some extent in newspapers similar things are happening. You can make a viable business, if you are good, around a much smaller circulation than was previously the case, particularly if you are able to harness some collective input around a common hub, around sourcing advertising, selling advertising, sourcing regional stories and putting into a more local title, so there is a sensible business model there. The creation of a purely local title. I come from Cornwall and the St Ives Times and Echo is just an absolutely wonderful newspaper which is owned by family that has owned it for over 100 years and it just produces a newspaper for the town of St Ives. That is a model which is impossible to replicate now, but it is hugely commendable.

  Q2461  Bishop of Manchester: But with all the economies that are going on at the moment, how do you see the future in terms of encouraging journalists? I think we have picked up on this committee in several pieces of evidence a real concern about opportunities for training people into journalism being cut back, which is surely bound to have an effect in the future both on newspapers and on journalism within radio?

  Mr Myners: It is certainly the case for some titles that the editorial content within the newspaper is declining. The proportion devoted to advertising increases and, within the editorial allocation, the proportion of material sourced from agencies, as opposed to produced by the title itself, is increasing. Nick Davis's recent book, which is controversial, makes this point. I think it is challengeable in some respects. However, if you define journalism in a broader sense, I think there has been no decline in journalism, they are just working in different media—they are working online, they are working on blogs, they are working on radio, they are on local television. We will see the emergence of more local television stations like the commendable Channel M in Manchester. So I think the totality of people doing work which might broadly be described as journalistic may not have necessarily decreased to the extent of the proportion who are working in the newspaper industry.

  Q2462  Bishop of Manchester: Can I ask one other question, which goes back to something you said at the very beginning when you were talking about the Scott Trust. I do not know if you have got at your fingerprints the actual membership of the Scott Trust, but if you have, it would be helpful to know who they are but, in any case, to find out from you who you perceive to be the key players in it?

  Mr Myners: The Scott Trust is chaired by Dame Liz Forgan and it combines some employees of the group, including, importantly, Mr Alan Rusbridger, the Editor of The Guardian, and Miss Carolyn McCall, the Chief Executive of the Guardian Media Group, and a group of other people drawn from academia, the law and the media who are deemed to have relevant experience to perform the very high-level purpose of the Scott Trust, which is to focus on editorial independence and ensuring that the paper continues to be produced according to the standards as heretofore.

  Q2463  Lord Maxton: Are you a member of it?

  Mr Myners: I was a member of the Trust, but I retired from the Trust at the end of last year. Liz Forgan kindly invites me to attend the Trust meetings if I would like to, and I think it is a good bridge between the two, but the Trust is very focused on issues of liberal journalism and preserving editorial independence and perpetuating the vision of CP Scott in the way in which we conduct ourselves. The board I chair is much more involved in the day-to-day management of the business.

  Q2464  Lord Maxton: So its emphasis tends to be, therefore, on its newspaper side. Does it still play an active role in smooth radio and real radio?

  Mr Myners: No, the non-national newspaper parts of the Guardian Media Group are a store of value to support our noble calling, and the Scott Trust largely satisfies itself around the competency of the Board and executive management of the Guardian Media Group and does not engage itself in matters of detail relating to Auto Trader or our local radio stations.

  Q2465  Lord Maxton: So if your local radio stations were putting out news that was not to the same standard as the Scott Trust would expect, they would not interfere?

  Mr Myners: Within the last two years we had a paper at our board about news coverage on our local radio stations to satisfy ourselves that our approach to news coverage was consistent with Scott Trust values, and Liz Forgan attends board meetings and, through that mechanism, is able to communicate matters which she thinks are relevant to members of the Trust. So there is a link there.

  Q2466  Lord King of Bridgwater: It sounds a slight contradiction, your description of what the Scott Trust is, in the sense that you emphasise the tremendous importance of editorial independence and then you emphasise the absolute determination of the Trust to see that it followed at all times the liberal traditions and heritage of CP Scott as though actually the Scott Trust took a very keen interest in what the editor was doing?

  Mr Myners: Liberal, of course, here is defined not by reference to party politics but by a rigorous pursuit of the truth, independence, willingness to be radical, compassionate, and I think that those are values which I would expect to see pervade The Guardian and the Scott Trust would keep "a weather eye" on whether it seemed that the paper was continuing to be liberal. Another aspect of liberalism is a tolerance of the views of others and, indeed, providing a platform for that. So you will find in The Guardian space regularly devoted to people who express coherent arguments which many would not expect to read in The Guardian. You also read in the paper criticism of The Guardian, which is, I think, unique.

  Q2467  Lord King of Bridgwater: To illustrate this point, any editor is faced with different challenges that arise at different times on which the editor of the paper has to take a position. Can you think of a recent instance where the editor has taken a position—Iraq is one of those big challenges that hit them—those sort of issues where the Scott Trust might have felt that the editor's position on that was not in accordance with the traditions?

  Mr Myners: I can think of no circumstance since I have been associated with group, now for eight years, where that has arisen. It is worth bearing mind, for instance, on the subject of Iraq, that The Observer, our Sunday title, adopted a stance which was broadly supportive of the act of invasion, The Guardian did not, and both editors reached their own conclusions.

  Q2468  Chairman: What happened to The Observer's editor?

  Mr Myners: The Observer's editor has retired.

  Q2469  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: He is editing the Independent.

  Mr Myners: I do not think he has started yet.

  Q2470  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: I think we are already in the territory of some of what I wanted to ask you in the questions we have just had. What we are looking at is the relationship that the Scott Trust, Guardian Media Group sets up is most unusual, in fact I think unique in this country, and when Alan Rusbridger was before us a few months ago he was very keen to tell us how very unusual it was and how remarkably benign, as an ownership model, it was in terms of editorial independence. I wanted to ask if you could elaborate a bit on some of what lies behind the answers that you gave to Lord King. The relationship between the Guardian Media Group and the content of the newspapers that it owns is one that you certainly describe as one of scrupulous, hands-off and independence, but in which circumstances would either you, as Chairman of that Board, or any individual member of your Board get involved in matters which did go to the content of the newspapers? For example, the appointment of key editors. We know that the Scott Trust appoints The Guardian editor. Are you personally involved in that? We know there has not been a new editor of The Guardian for a very long time, but were there to be would you expect to be involved in that choice, and, where there are issues of lines that any newspaper or outlet that you control might want to take, is there any influence that you do exert on what those lines might be or what the content might be?

  Mr Myners: I have, but I seek no influence on editorial matters at all. I may discuss things with the editor in the scope of a general interest in public policy, but it would be entirely inappropriate for me or any member of the Board to seek to give the editor any direction on editorial matters.

  Q2471  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Could I stop you for a moment there. You talked earlier about the balance between editorial and advertising content within any given newspaper or, presumably, radio outlet as well. That is a commercial matter, but it does have an influence on the way that the content is presented, certainly, if not on the detail of what it actually says. Would you expect to be able to influence an editor about how much he or she generated from advertising in a given newspaper and, therefore, how much space is given over to advertising?

  Mr Myners: No. I am sure that that is an issue which arises in some other organisations, but not at The Guardian.

  Q2472  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: So you would you not expect that. That is purely a matter for the editor and his staff?

  Mr Myners: Purely and entirely a matter for the editor and his staff. The style of editing of The Guardian is very different. It is much more collegiate than, I think, in most organisations, much more open, much more subject to debate, the editor, essentially, being accountable to senior colleagues. I might in a moment come back to your question about the process of the appointment of the editor. The Guardian has independent readers' editor, not appointed by the editor, accountable to the Scott Trust. The editor has no influence over the decision or anything that the readers' editor puts into the newspaper. We from time to time carried articles which are critical of the Guardian Media Group, critical of our commercial policies. I think it that is extremely unusual for an organisation to do that. I think the editor would describe his accountabilities as being to the readership and colleagues rather than the proprietor or a commercial force that leans over his shoulder. As far as the process of the appointment of an editor of The Guardian is concerned, of course this takes place very rarely. The Guardian editors tend to serve for very long periods of time. It is worth remembering that the journalists are given an opportunity to express a view on who should be appointed; the Scott Trust makes the decision but will listen to the journalists views on the type of person or, indeed, the identity of a person who is appropriate for that role. I would expect, as chairman of the group, to be able to the express a view to the Trust, but the Trust would take that view into consideration, along with many others, in forming its own judgment. So, if Alan Rusbridger was to retire, I would not be directly involved in the choice of his successor.

  Q2473  Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: Could I ask one other question about the relationship between content and commercial decisions, which I take it the Guardian Media Group is interested in taking? Where there are issues to do with setting journalistic budgets, how many journalists to employ, when and where to deploy them, how much interest do you take in the way that individual editors, particularly obviously The Guardian and The Observer, set and manage their journalistic budgets?

  Mr Myners: I think the matter of the number of journalists and their deployment is entirely a matter for the editor, as, indeed, are the ways in which he might handle sudden and unanticipated pressures for increased editorial spend in reaction, for instance, to the invasion of Iraq. These are matters which, I believe, could be left to the editor as long as Carolyn McCall and my colleagues at the Guardian Media Group ensure that the group is in a healthy financial position to be able to meet those requirements, and then, in a collegiate environment, the editor does not abuse that; the editor does not become a trust child who can constantly reach out without any sense of responsibility to the Trust for money. I can only really simply say it works. I think that the only other parallel in this country is The Economist, to some extent, comes somewhat closer to the Scott Trust and The Guardian than any other. It is a very different way of owning a newspaper and it gives the editors a degree of independence and freedom which I think is admirable and something which is a source of distinct advantage to us.

  Q2474  Chairman: I am going to bring Lord Corbett in a moment. One thing struck me as you were saying this. You go to the meetings of the Trust and, as I understand it, the Trust Chairman goes to the meetings of the Board.

  Mr Myners: Yes.

  Q2475  Chairman: So you do not believe that there is any value in the two being totally ring fenced. Surely, do there not come circumstances where commercially you say: "You cannot really do this attack on Marks and Spencer. They provide vast amounts of advertising for us"?

  Mr Myners: I can say with complete candour that I have never been party to any discussion of that sort at all. Liz Forgan comes to our board meetings and, as I said, I am invited, but do not always necessary go, to Trust meetings. The parallel here is how a publicly owned company would account to its shareholder. There is some form of communication. I, for instance, ensured that the Scott Trust was broadly comfortable with a number of significant strategic moves we have made in the Guardian Media Group portfolio over recent years. The increase in our investment in radio, the sale of a part of our interest in Trader Media Group and the acquisition, with another investor, of the business to business assets of Emap, were all, in my view, of sufficient importance for the Trust to be familiar with our thinking and to have an opportunity to express a view, and that, I think, is part of an open dialogue, but I think they are very separate functions and, quite frankly, very different skill sets required on the Trust from those required on the Board. I feel much more comfortable on the Board. It is about business, which is what I do. The Trust is about thinking—

  Q2476  Lord Maxton: You do not do that!

  Mr Myners: ---which I am not so good at, or thinking in a particular way.

  Chairman: Lord Corbett, who is a renowned thinker!

  Q2477  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Can you clear up something in the exchange with Lady McIntosh? I am unclear as to who actually sets the budget for The Guardian.

  Mr Myners: The budget for The Guardian is set by the Chief Executive of the Guardian News and Media Subsidiary, which is our national newspaper title, and that budget is then approved by the Guardian Media Group Board. If you get to the question then of where the editorial budget is set, the editorial budget is largely taken as given. The editor will say, "This is the editorial budget I require to deliver my vision", and then there is a commercial budget which lies alongside that.

  Q2478  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: The editor would negotiate that budget with the Chief Executive?

  Mr Myners: I am not sure negotiate is the right way. I think there would be a dialogue based upon mutual respect, but really the editor will say, "This is what I require." We have added 60 new journalists in the national titles over the last 12 months, notwithstanding the economic outlook. Why have we done that? Because the editor really wants to promote our digital content. The Guardian is now the most read British newspaper on the web. We have more people in America who read us each day on the web than read us in a newspaper format in the UK. So we have gone from being a provincial newspaper in Manchester that ambitiously moved to London 50 years ago to become a national title to now becoming an international liberal voice through the web, and this has meant that our readership has changed, as a result of which we have to move to reflect their interests. So the proportion of our journalists covering international, non-British news, has significantly increased to reflect the increasing diversity of our readership as a consequence of the web.

  Q2479  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: If the situation arose where the Trust thought that the paper was not being given enough money for editorial purposes, could it make representations to you or others in the GMG?

  Mr Myners: Yes, it could. I find it difficult to conceive in immediate circumstances where that would arise. Importantly, rather the other way round, I always testify to the Board of the Guardian Media Group, whenever we contemplate a significant investment in non-newspaper assets, that Carolyn McCall, our Chief Executive, and I remain confident that this investment is consistent with our need to ensure the group is always appropriately resourced financially to support the ambitions of the editor.


 
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