More than 200 FT journalists sign letter asking Nikkei to 'enshrine past and present freedoms'

More than 200 Financial Times journalists have signed a letter to new owner Nikkei asking the company to “enshrine past and present freedoms” in the newspaper’s governance. (Picture: Shutterstock)

The Japanese company completed an £844m deal to buy the FT from Pearson – the title’s owner since 1957 – in July.

On the same day, former FT Group chairman Sir David Bell said it was “imperative that there are independently audited safeguards to protect the independence of the FT”.

Later, three former editors of the newspaper – Geoffrey Owen, Richard Lambert and Andrew Gowers – wrote to the FT’s letters page, saying: “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.”

In August, a letter asking for the FT’s independence to be enshrined was sent to the owners and signed by Steve Bird, head of the National Union of Journalists’ FT chapel.

And Martin Sandbu, the FT’s economics leader writer, has written to staff asking that they put their names to th statement.

He said: “Since the news of the Nikkei sale broke, we've all had plenty of sometimes nervous discussions about what happens next. While my sense is that the mood is cautiously optimistic, the question of editorial independence keeps coming up.”

On the chapel's suggestion that Nikkei should "consider putting in place institutional protections for the FT's editorial independence", Sandbu added: “This is something every colleague I speak to thinks is a good idea. If, as I believe, virtually everyone at the FT agrees, it is important that we state our agreement clearly and publicly…

“To be completely clear, this is not intended to be antagonistic towards either Nikkei or FT management. On the contrary, the statement makes clear that the FT's editorial integrity is essential to the newspaper’s journalistic and commercial value, and therefore to the owners' interest as well.

“Above all, this open statement is a way for us all to recognise the values we hold in common regardless of union membership or whatever else we may disagree on. That clarity may help FT management and Nikkei as they engage to shape our joint future in the coming months.”

Press Gazette understands the statement (below in full) has been signed by more than 200 FT journalists.

Dear friends at Nikkei,

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. While not in itself a guarantee of editorial independence, such a structure would be a clear statement of intent.

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.

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