Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright has said he will likely approve a request from the Times and Sunday Times for more flexibility to share editorial resources after the publisher tweaked its bid.
News UK, which owns the titles, applied to the Government in January to ask for a “small change” to undertakings first put in place to maintain the independence of both titles when Rupert Murdoch bought them in 1981.
The publisher said it was committed to both titles remaining separate, with separate editors, but that change would enable them “to contend with the continual disruption that has faced the media industry in the digital age”.
In a written statement today, Wright said that although he announced in April he was “minded” to accept the application, he had subsequently told News UK it needed to update its proposals “to reflect corporate best practice”.
He said: “In considering the proposed new undertakings as a whole, I also noted that the existing governance arrangements lacked clarity and certainty over roles and responsibilities.
“Before agreeing the application, I therefore made clear to News UK that their proposals needed to be suitably updated and enhanced to reflect corporate best practice.”
The company has since submitted “revised undertakings” which Wright said “represent a sufficient improvement on those contained in the original proposal and which substantially meet my concerns”.
He therefore proposes to accept the revised undertakings from News UK, which are now subject to public consultation until 15 July.
Wright will then consider whether any further changes are required or whether the undertakings are sufficient as they are now.
News UK declined to comment on Wright’s update today.
Explaining the reasons behind the request, Times editor John Witherow has previously said: “The persistent cost pressures facing our industry mean that we need to manage our newsrooms as carefully as possible.
“We need to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult market so that we can continue to build a sustainable future for Times journalism.”
Press reform campaign group Hacked Off organised a petition calling on the Government to refuse the request, saying it fears the quality and integrity of the two newspapers would be put at risk by the move and “pave the way for redundancies”.
News UK has previously declined to comment on any potential staffing cuts.