The Guardian model is no ideal

Guardian Media Group behaves no differently from a straightforward profit-making concern.

In discussions of press ownership, the Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, is frequently held up as a model. Far better, people say, than a proprietor who wants newspapers for personal aggrandisement or a faceless conglomerate interested only in short-term profit. But the behaviour of Guardian Media Group towards the Manchester Evening News is in essence no different from that of a straightforward profit-making concern.

The latter wants dividends for its shareholders: GMG wants dividends for the Guardian, in accordance with the Scott Trust's terms, which require it to protect that paper "in perpetuity". Not content with modest profits, both slash costs (eg, journalism) to maximise returns and then, when profits slump, make a quick sale -- in the case of the Evening News, to Trinity Mirror, a faceless conglomerate.

I don't criticise the Guardian, which had little alternative. I merely point out that, in this imperfect world, there is no ideal model of press ownership. In recent history, the Thomsons and O'Reillys were widely regarded as admirably benign, hands-off proprietors. The Thomsons sold the Times and Sunday Times to Rupert Murdoch; the O'Reillys propose to sell the Independents to a former KGB spy.

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Peter Wilby was editor of the Independent on Sunday from 1995 to 1996 and of the New Statesman from 1998 to 2005. He writes the weekly First Thoughts column for the NS.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for International Trade.

Only Nixon, it is said, could have gone to China. Only a politician with the impeccable Commie-bashing credentials of the 37th President had the political capital necessary to strike a deal with the People’s Republic of China.

Theresa May’s great hope is that only Liam Fox, the newly-installed Secretary of State for International Trade, has the Euro-bashing credentials to break the news to the Brexiteers that a deal between a post-Leave United Kingdom and China might be somewhat harder to negotiate than Vote Leave suggested.

The biggest item on the agenda: striking a deal that allows Britain to stay in the single market. Elsewhere, Fox should use his political capital with the Conservative right to wait longer to sign deals than a Remainer would have to, to avoid the United Kingdom being caught in a series of bad deals. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.