'Times' integrity damaged by Patten affair

Senior journalist admits 'cock-up' over book censorship furore

THE independence of Rupert Murdoch's Times has been damaged by the newspaper's non-coverage of last week's row between the tycoon's HarperCollins publishing house and the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, one of the paper's senior journalists said yesterday.

Ray Snoddy, the paper's media editor, went on to BBC radio's Mediumwave to explain the fact that the first coverage his paper had given of the saga, which made front-page news on Thursday, was a low-key report on page 5 of Saturday's paper, headlined: "News Corp puts its side in row over Patten".

The Independent revealed last week that Chris Patten had switched to rival publishers Macmillan to bring out his forthcoming memoirs East and West to avoid censorship from Mr Murdoch. It later transpired the tycoon had ordered HarperCollins to drop the book, because it will be critical of the Beijing authorities.

Mr Snoddy said that his own reputation would inevitably be damaged by the way in which his paper had covered the story, and asked whether it would dent the independence of the paper, he said: "I think so, but I insist it was not a deliberate thing."

Bravely taking the entire blame for the journalistic "miss", Mr Snoddy appeared to suggest that news reporters operate independently with no prompting by news editors.

"I'm afraid it had more to do with cock-up than conspiracy," he said. He had put in calls to all the main characters on Thursday, but Mr Patten had refused to discuss detail, and even Mr Murdoch had not returned his calls.

"I certainly didn't miss it because of anybody sitting on my desk, telling me not to write it," Mr Snoddy said.

"If I'd written a detailed story and that had been spiked [not used], I would long since have been considering my position."

However, Mr Snoddy then appeared to accept that there was a problem relating to newspaper reporting on the internal affairs of their proprietorial groups. "When, for instance, did you last see a critical report on Conrad Black [the proprietor] in the Telegraph?" he asked.

Mr Patten told the Sunday Telegraph that, because HarperCollins had published a number of controversial books about Tibet and China, including Jung Chang's harrowing account of life under Sino-communism, Wild Swans, he had no fears about his book.

"It never occurred to me that Mr Murdoch's business links with China could be a factor in this," he said. "If it had, I would never have signed."

Yesterday it was reported that Stuart Proffitt, the HarperCollins editor who resigned rather support the decision to drop the Patten book, it on a freelance basis for Macmillan.

Meanwhile in a letter to The Independent, Brian Aldiss, the award-winning science fiction writer, claims there is censorship of an "insidious nature" at HarperCollins - who used to publish his work.

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