Sir Harold Evans has suggested that Rupert Murdoch should sell The Times rather than merge it with its Sunday stablemate.
In December Times editor James Harding resigned saying: “It has been clear to me that News Corp would like to appoint a new editor.”
On 18 January News International revealed that Sunday Times editor John Witherow had been made “acting” editor of The Times because the independent directors had refused approve his appointment – possible because of concerns about moves to merge the titles.
Asked for his views on Harding’s departure after he delivered last night’s Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communications, Evans said: “It was de ja vu all over again, I was squeezed out [as Times editor] in 1982.
“I think James Harding behaved with great dignity, he had a choice - a choice I had and a choice other editors probably had...
“In that situation…the day to day decisions an editor makes can be challenged – ‘you’re upsetting readers, losing circulation, offending the advertisers’. That's why the editors’ independence is so importance. He's going to make decisions day to day on what criteria?”
Evans said that he believed the Times independent directors were asked for their approval “after the deed” – so after he had already effectively removed from the job.
Under terms of Rupert Murdoch’s 1981 purchase of The Times, only the independent directors have the power to remove an editor.
Evans said: “In my case they said if he wants to quit he’s entitled to - if you want to fire him you have to have our approval. I think James Harding was in the same position.
“What's interesting is the national directors can insist the papers remain separate. That's in the documents. Rupert has an economic case, but it would be a loss of plurality...My solution is that Rupert should sell The Times. Let's have another voice of plurality.”
Evans also used his Cudlipp lecture to voice his support for statutory-underpinning of a new press regulation system and to condemn what he described as the misrepresentation and distortion on the part of press owners in making their case against it.