Financial Times journalists call on new owner Nikkei to 'enshrine' editorial independence

Financial Times journalists have written to new owner Nikkei asking it to "enshrine past and present freedoms in our governance". (Picture: Shutterstock)

The letter, sent to the new Japanese owners yesterday, was signed by Steve Bird, head of the FT's National Union of Journalists chapel, on behalf of all staff.

It highlighted a letter, published in the FT, signed by three former editors who expressed concern that the FT's current governance structures do not guarantee independence.

The letter – signed by Geoffrey Owen (editor from 1981-1990), Richard Lambert (1991-2001) and Andrew Gower (2001-2005) – said: "There is nothing at present in the governance structures of the publication to guarantee the continued independence of the editor. Since this is the key to the FT and to what it stands for, Nikkei would do well to put this right."

The chapel letter said: "As a starting point, this meeting requests that Nikkei executives meet senior FT staff and union representatives to discuss the immediate concern raised… Neither a company's culture nor its institutional structure can alone ensure continued editorial independence but together they offer the best long-term guarantee for the integrity that makes the FT a success."

The  letter, in full, said:

As FT journalists and NUJ members we would like to thank you for your warm letter of welcome and assurances about investing in our future. We note also your public statement that the Financial Times will retain complete editorial independence under your ownership.

For more than 50 years the FT has benefited from the stability and protection offered by continuous ownership by Pearson, a company that allowed the "quality and integrity" that you single out to flourish. This culture has meant a lot to present and former staff and editors and clearly means much to our readers.

As part of the close communications that you urge in your letter, we would like to work with Nikkei managers to enshrine past and present freedoms in our governance. There are precedents for this at other European titles such as Les Echos and The Economist and any new policy may even mirror your own ideas of employee participation as embodied in your partnership. 

This joint initiative would highlight FT values and send a strong signal to our readers. We also believe that it could only be seen as beneficial for the reputations of both Nikkei and the Financial Times.

As a starting point, this meeting requests that Nikkei executives meet senior FT staff and union representatives to discuss the immediate concern raised by three former FT editors: "There is nothing at present in the governance structures of the publication to guarantee the continued independence of the editor. Since this is the key to the FT and to what it stands for, Nikkei would do well to put this right." [Letter to the FT, 24 July, from Geoffrey Owen, Editor 1981-1990; Richard Lambert Editor, 1991-2001; Andrew Gowers, Editor 2001-2005].

Neither a company's culture nor its institutional structure can alone ensure continued editorial independence but together they offer the best long-term guarantee for the integrity that makes the FT a success. 

The above statement was discussed and endorsed unanimously by FT journalists at an open meeting – Wednesday 5 August

The £844m sale of the FT from Pearson to Nikkei was announced on 23 July. Former FT Group chairman Sir David Bell immediately raised independence concerns. He told staff“If a deal goes ahead, it is imperative that there are independently audited safeguards to protect the independence of the FT.”

The Financial Times claims to have some 580 editorial staff, who are represented by an officially-recognised NUJ chapel.

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