Satchwell: "facts, not fantasy"
The Society of Editors has made a submission to the Competition Commission in which it claims that regional newspaper editors are not "neutered slaves" when they work for big regional companies.
The submission over the proposed Johnston Press takeover of eight Trinity Mirror titles was prompted by the New Statesman article on Don Hale by Nick Cohen which sharply criticised Johnston management.
Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said he applauded Hale’s victory in the Stephen Downing campaign, but added: "We wanted to defend the honour of editors and make sure that the commission makes its decision based on facts not fantasy."
Satchwell’s submission claims the allegations expressed in the New Statesman raised unwarranted questions about the integrity of other regional editors.
"Whatever the truth of the criticisms concerning the Matlock Mercury, it would be wrong to conclude that, in effect, regional editors are neutered slaves to management diktats, the local establishment and advertisers, as the article implied," it says.
Satchwell also tells the commission: "We hold no special brief for Johnston Press. However, many editors in both Johnston Press and Trinity Mirror are our members. Their organisations support their membership and value the work of the society. I am sure we would soon be told if a media company threatened editors’ independence. "We have seen no evidence that the size of a media group interferes with editorial independence. Corporate ownership does not necessarily imply dilution of editorial diversity. Editors best serve their managers and shareholders by serving their readers. Any company with commercial sense recognises that."
Satchwell told Press Gazette that the society had not been asked to make a submission but thought it should do so when it became aware that the New Statesman article had been brought to the commission’s attention.
lHale, who was questioned by the commission for two-and-a-half hours on Monday, said: "People seemed surprised by the answers but I can only tell it how it is. I gather some of it contradicted claims made by Johnston." He talked particularly about events in the past seven years, when he was investigating the Downing case.
Hale said his difficulties with Johnston started when he was asked by management to apologise to Derbyshire Police in 1995, and he refused. "It was a row which went on for seven years and they threw a lot of trivial disciplinary matters at me to get me to resign," he claimed.
By Jon Slattery and Jean Morgan