Thomson tirade at Ofcom 'nannying'

Daily Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere listens to Thomson

Times editor Robert Thomson has made a stinging attack on the new media regulator Ofcom and its chairman Lord Currie.

Thomson, speaking at the annual lunch of NPF – the journalists’ charity, claimed Currie “almost finds it difficult to disguise his contempt for newspapers”.

He added: “Ofcom is something to worry about because it will have a regulatory impact. This is a regulator looking for things to regulate and we need to make it difficult for them.”

He described Ofcom as “the institutionalisation of the nannying and social engineering that seems to be embodied in its charter and in its principles and the type of people it has appointed.

“It seems to me a few of those people who at 23 were telling me to get rid of a famous brand name and create something like paperbag.com or whatever are now hiding out at Ofcom.

“The exclusively designed order that they seem to want to create to match their exquisitely designed building is inimicalable to journalism as we know it.”

He claimed: “Journalists are an unruly bunch and we must be unruly and our unruliness should only be exceeded by our commitment to the profession.”

Thomson also reflected on the changing fortunes of The Guardian in the face of competition from the tabloid Times and Independent.

“Think back two years and if you picked a franchise that was as cosy as any can be in the broadsheet market, I guess you would’ve picked The Guardian.

“You’d have thought ‘here is a newspaper that seems to be growing market share virtually every year, it’s got a nicely refurbished Georgian terrace on the moral high ground, what could be better?’ “But as far as I can read the runes of the latest circulation figures, this very strong newspaper that has a very clear constituency is losing sales year-on-year by about 10 per cent.

“This is extraordinary. It is not that The Guardian has suddenly become a poor paper, it is that others have come up with tricks to get new readers.”

Thomson denied that “downsizing was dumbing down”. In a reference to The World, Stephen Glover’s plan for a serious upmarket tabloid with a circulation of 100,000, Thomson said claims that the quality dailies had dumbed down and betrayed their traditions were based on a very selective analysis of the British press.

“If you look at papers right across the range, from traditional tabloids to the mid-markets and the broadsheets, there is an extraordinary amount of high quality material,” he said.

Sun editor Rebekah Wade talks

Thomson also said it was “nonsense” to say journalists have been cowed by the Hutton Report and the criticism of Andrew Gilligan relying on a single source. “Journalism is a very abstract profession. We can argue about a single source but we all know it depends entirely on who that source is and what is the motivation of that source.

“So to say whether a single source is right or wrong is almost a facile debate. We shouldn’t see Hutton as a setback and we shouldn’t let it have an impact.”

Thomson said his views on sources were reinforced every day at the morning and afternoon conference at The Times and every evening on the backbench.

“That’s where you are questioning people on sources and making clear to people the principles of sound sourcing and sound journalism.”

By Jon Slattery

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