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25 February 2010

The Guardian model is no ideal

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

By Peter Wilby

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.

This news item appears in this week’s issue of the New Statesman.

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