The six-month stand-off over the appointment of the editors of The Times and Sunday Times looks to be nearly over.
Proprietor Rupert Murdoch and the papers’ independent directors have been at loggerheads over fears the two titles could be merged.
But Mike Darcey, chief executive of Murdoch’s British newspapers division, News UK, said: “I think we’re in a better place now.”
He told MPs and peers at a meeting in Westminster: “A lot of progress has been made on the cost side of the business without going anywhere near integration or anything like that.
“I’m hoping that is now a dialogue that will get back to the independent directors and we’ll be able to get them comfortable and they will be able to form their view in due course.” Lord Marlesford, one of six independent directors on the board of Times Newspapers Holdings, was present at yesterday’s meeting of the all-party media group.
Murdoch named John Witherow as Times editor and Martin Ivens as Sunday Times editor in December but they hold the jobs in an “acting” position because the directors have refused to approve the appointments.
The directors were unhappy with the way Murdoch parted ways with James Harding, the previous Times editor, and feared a merger because Witherow had been Sunday Times editor. Under the terms of a 1981 agreement when Murdoch bought the papers, the independent directors must approve the appointment of editors and protect their independence. Other directors include ex-City grandee Rupert Pennant-Rea and ex-Evening Standard editor Veronica Wadley.
Darcey admitted they had had “a lot of concern about the economics” of the loss-making papers last year and that “no one had immediate satisfactory answers” about a merger, even though there are no plans for such a move.
He has rebranded News UK, formerly News International, and written this week to every MP and peer to explain how it has cleaned up its operations after the phone-hacking and illegal payments scandals.