Telegraph editor-in-chief Will Lewis told the House of Lords that the Barclay Brothers never interfered in the editorial direction of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph – unlike Conrad Black, the previous owner.
He told the Lords Communications Committee that Aidan Barclay, chairman of the company, phoned him once a week but they only discussed business matters.
‘What they are very clear about is that he has never or will never ask what is in the paper the next day,’Lewis said.
He said that the readers were more influential on the editorial direction of the Telegraph than the proprietors.
He said: ‘If I was to publish a leader calling for Brussels to be more powerful or less powerful it wouldn’t be the owners who would lynch me, it would be the readers. I would last 20 minutes.”
Lewis criticised Dominic Lawson, a former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, who gave evidence to the Lords late last year. The committee’s remit is to investigate whether the ownership of newspapers influences the way news is presented.
In his evidence Lawson said that Aidan Barclay on one occasion asked him not to publish a story about David Blunkett’s private life and that there had been no interference from Conrad Black when he was owner.
Lewis said: ‘I was quite amazed by the thought that Conrad Black didn’t interfere – the last time I read Max Hastings’s book it was full of clear evidence of interference on really quite absurd issues. He seemed to spend his life writing memos and his wife had a column in the paper I recall, she doesn’t have one now.”
When Lord Fowler, a former Times journalist and committee chairman, continued to question him about Lawson’s evidence, Lewis said: ‘He was also just wrong on lots of different things. He has been out of the business for quite some time.”
Fowler said that while it was ‘wonderful to hear this Fleet Street stuff”, he suggested he might like to pursue his differences with Lawson at some other stage.
Lewis assured peers that recent changes at the Telegraph had not led to journalists not going out of the office.
Lady Bonham-Carter, herself a journalist, said she was concerned about journalists not being able to go out and meet people and get stories.
Lewis told her: ‘I started my life as an investigative journalist’on the Financial Times, and that the move from Canary Wharf to Victoria had led to more Telegraph journalists getting out and about. He said Victoria was just ‘five or ten minutes away from Parliament and the City”.
He said: ‘Our journalists get out and meet people – Canary Wharf is a terrible place to have a newspaper because people stay at their desks all day long.”