Forty years ago, Rupert Murdoch bought the Times and the Sunday Times. In 1981, under the reign of the Iron Lady, Murdoch had to set up a board of independent directors. Margaret Thatcher had imposing legally binding guarantees to safeguard their independence, so as to avoid the creation of a monopoly.
Ten years ago, Murdoch had to appear before British Members of Parliament and apologize for the hacking of Miley Dowler’s phone by News of the World. He had subsequently said it was the most humble day of his life. However, he was back to a position of influence and power from 2019 when Boris Johnson became the Prime Minister. He has been a frequent guest at 10 Downing Street as his news agencies generally avoid targeting the Conservatives under Johnson’s administration.
Murdoch has now asked for the scrapping of the legal requirements of independent editors. This will most probably happen though it is being seen as a step to breach the decline in readership rather than a show of influence and power.
If the independent editors are scrapped the Times and the Sunday Times could be merged and this would save costs. Murdoch’s print empire has been facing a decline in both readership and revenues due to the migration of people from print to online news as well as loss in revenues used to settle many legal cases of defamation.
Although he is not as influential as he was in the eighties, the merging is not a big issue as editors have said in the past that independence was a mirage. If there was a conflict between an editor and a proprietor, it was a well-known fact that the proprietor would emerge victorious.
The Times and the Sunday Times currently sell less than a million copies although News Corp. does not release circulation figures. A merger could help cut costs and is not really a bid to extend his power.