Letter: The journalists are to blame

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The Independent Online
IT IS honest of Harold Evans to admit that he was wrong not to back the demand of the minority of his Sunday Times journalists for a Monopolies and Mergers Commission inquiry into the Murdoch takeover of the paper in 1981. It is regrettable that it has taken him 13 years to admit the error publicly ('The king of broken promises', Review, 26 June).

For a few days after I had proposed legal action for a reference to the MMC a majority of the Sunday Times team supported the move. Magnus Linklater seconded the action.

Murdoch had set the following Monday as his take-it- or-leave-it deadline, by which the Thomson board had to accept his offer. Legal action by the staff would have derailed that timetable. On the preceding Saturday evening, at 90 minutes' notice, a journalists' meeting was convened by the union chairman, Eric Jacobs. It was packed by those who wished to collaborate with the takeover, not oppose it.

If Harold Evans, as he confirms, could not attend, his lieutenants did. His political editor, Hugo Young, argued that since the Trade Minister, John Biffen, did not need to act on the advice of the MMC, there was no point in seeking an inquiry. This denied the whole raison d'etre of the paper: that to shed light on murky matters affecting the public interest was in itself reason enough for so doing.

The meeting was offered the Murdoch guarantees, the promises. These were an evident device to get the deal round an awkward corner.

The Sunday Times crusaders knew what they were doing when they voted to collaborate with Murdoch. They chickened out. They should not use Margaret Thatcher's unwholesome influence, or the pretence that they wished to save the Times, as alibis for their spectacular failure of nerve.

Tony Geraghty

Former Defence Correspondent

'Sunday Times'