Individual editors free to take sides, insists Bowdler

Scotsman editor Mike Gilson “ignored” the views of Johnston Press chief executive Tim Bowdler and swung his paper’s support in favour of the Scottish National Party in the elections, Parliament has been told.

Bowdler disclosed to a cross-party committee of peers that he had discussed the paper’s political allegiance before the Holyrood poll, but insisted the company believed editorial freedom was paramount.

He said the Johnston Press board had been interested in what side the paper would support.

‘They asked me what position The Scotsman would take and, in fact, I did talk to Mike about it and we had an interesting discussion, and he ignored my views totally,’Bowdler said.

Gilson told the House of Lords’ communication committee that The Scotsman had broken tradition to support the SNP and a Liberal Democratic coalition.

He said the decision had been based on what they thought about the readership, on what the reporters felt and what they thought was in the interests of the newspaper.

Bowdler and Gilson told peers that the policy of Johnston Press, the third largest regional publisher with 318 titles, enshrined the right of editorial freedom.

‘We are passionate about seeing that editors are free to edit,’Bowdler said. ‘Their views are paramount.”

Bowdler admitted there had been a number of occasions when advertising revenue had been lost as a direct result of the company’s editorial approach.

Gilson denied claims by the National Union of Journalists that the introduction of modern IT systems left reporters with less time to leave the office to search for stories.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Scott said the NUJ had expressed concern to the peers that journalists were spending less time gathering news.

Gilson told her: ‘I don’t see a decline in the amount of time people are out looking for facts.”

Bowdler said the number of journalists employed by the company had remained constant over the past 10 years and as a proportion of the workforce had increased from 25 to 30 per cent.

“Our newsrooms have stayed local. We believe very fundamentally this business can only succeed and flourish if you have feet on the ground, journalists in local communities, offices in local communities.”

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