For years Robert Hanson’s involvement with the press centred on the gossip columns where his liaisons with the likes of Sophie Anderton and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson provided an endless stream of tabloid fodder. Until his marriage to the Russian model Masha Markova – who, at 25, was half her husband’s age – he had been identified in the press as one of Britain’s most eligible bachelors.
His current involvement with the media is altogether different, as owner of Venezuela’s best-selling newspaper. He used his company, Hanson Family Holdings, to acquire the paper last year, reportedly for $98m (£62m). Now the son of Baroness Thatcher’s favourite industrialist, the late Lord Hanson, is attracting media attention again after reporters on Ultimas Noticias became disgruntled over government insiders apparently influencing editorial decisions.
Political observers in Caracas might have been forgiven for expecting Old Etonian Hanson, 54, with his Thatcherite family ties, to be unenthusiastic about Socialist Party President Nicolas Maduro, who succeeded Hugo Chavez in April last year.
During Mr Hanson’s partying years, he reportedly wowed Tom Cruise and other attendees at one of George Clooney’s New York birthday bashes with his “feverish dancing skills” before loudly exclaiming: “I love America! This is the place where things happen!” Not the sort of sentiments to go down well with supporters of the Chavez legacy in Venezuela.
But despite anticipation that the paper would lurch rightwards, the Socialist Party’s former elections adviser Hector Davila has been appointed to the senior role of President-Editor.
And whereas Ultimas Noticias had a history of investigative journalism in exposing features of the Chavez regime, now reporting staff complain that the ruling party exerts editorial control.
One of the reporters, José Rafael Mata, tweeted what he said was a picture of a handwritten note ordering a story to be pulled from the paper’s website because it detailed a former minister’s complaints about the Socialist Party stifling internal dissent. Mr Mata cited the episode as one of the reasons he felt compelled to leave the paper.
However, Mr Davila, a computer scientist, told Reuters that Ultimas Noticias had not abandoned its willingness to criticise the government. “If you’re looking for complaints about the government, pick any edition of the paper and you’ll have [as many as you want],” he said, citing critical stories on problems ranging from decay of public hospitals to corruption by state-backed community groups.
He also said the only instructions he received from the paper’s British owner were merely to run a balanced and profitable newspaper.
Mr Hanson’s father was famous for his close relationships with politicians, including the disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton. He set up Hanson PLC in 1964 and built it up by buying under-preforming assets and turning them around. Hanson bought a succession of high-street names, including John Collyer and Allders department stores, before making his most famous acquisition: Imperial Tobacco Group, bought for £2.5bn in 1986.
Lord Hanson was a founder of the anti-European Business for Sterling group and a member of the Bruges Group, which seeks to reduce the influence of Brussels. It is a very different philosophy from that of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, founded in 2007 by Chavez, with whom Thatcher’s old political adversary Ken Livingstone struck up a rapport – and an oil deal – when Mayor of London.Reuse content