So is former Today programme editor Rod Liddle set to become editor of The Independent under Alexander Lebedev?
It seems a little early to be speculating about staffing changes, as Lebedev has yet to even buy the Independent titles. But the Evening Standard-owning former KGB man is in a period of exclusive negotiations to buy the Independent titles until 15 February.
Media Guardian did not quote any sources, named or un-named, in its story on Friday naming Liddle as the “clear frontrunner” to take over the editor’s chair at the Independent following a Lebedev takeover.
Roy Greenslade reports a mini revolt among Independent staff at the prospect of a Liddle editorship because of his right-wing views – as espoused in his regular columns for The Spectator and Sunday Times.
But there were similar concerns about current editor Roger Alton, who was named as Simon Kelner’s successor as Independent editor in April 2008. As editor of The Observer he had backed the invasion of Iraq – in stark contrast to The Independent’s steadfastly anti-war position.
Liddle distinguished himself as editor of the Today programme during something of a golden period for it in the more combative pre-Hutton report era.
In 2001, prickly questioning from Today programme presenters was judged to be putting such a dampner on New Labour’s honeymoon that ministers decided to stop going on the programme.
Liddle exited the Today programme in October 2002 after criticism that his then Guardian column breached BBC rules on impartiality, before Andrew Gilligan’s 6.07am two-way with John Humphrys in May 2003 when the allegations about sexing up the Government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were made.
Since then he has earned his living as a freelance columnist and broadcaster, so could hardly be said to be “match fit” to take on the editorship of a national daily newspaper.
One of his main claims to fame as associate editor of The Spectator has been his role in the extra-marital bed-hopping antics of staff during then editor Boris Johnson’s ‘summer of love’ in 2004, which was dramatised in the play: “Who’s the daddy”.
So far more than 1,600 people have signed up to the Facebook group: “If Rod Liddle becomes editor of The Independent I will not buy it again”.
It is difficult to imagine how Lebedev could find a more experienced or respected editor of The Independent than Alton, who in 2007 picked up the British Press Awards newspaper of the year prize for The Observer. But new owners do like change.
When you’re buying a train-set which will be as expensive to run as The Independent (current losses for both titles estimated at £10m a year) you are going to want to tinker with it a bit.
What do you think? Would Liddle, Alton, or someone else make the best editor of The Independent?