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Ban on merger between The Times and The Sunday Times lifted

News UK has been formally released from undertakings to keep The Times and The Sunday Times separate, given when Rupert Murdoch acquired the titles in 1981.

Ban on merger between The Times and The Sunday Times lifted

UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries said she had received no objections after saying she was minded to lift the restrictions in November.

The move clears the way for a potential merger of the two titles, but according to the Guardian, Times and Sunday Times editor John Witherow and Emma Tucker sent an email to staff on Thursday which said: “Times and Sunday Times editorial independence continues and is enshrined in the editors’ contracts. The Times and The Sunday Times remain as separate newspapers and there are no plans to merge the titles.”

Ofcom had warned that removing the restrictions “would create the opportunity for greater proprietorial influence over the titles, which could affect free expression of opinion and accuracy of news.”

However, the regulator also accepted that the papers’ proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, had little incentive to exercise greater editorial control as such a move would likely undermine the trust of the papers’ readers and thus cost him money.

Ofcom, as summarised by the DCMS, also said: “Even in the event of a merger of the titles in question, readers would still have access to a wide range of viewpoints and any diminution of editorial voice due to further integration between the titles was unlikely because Ofcom considers that both titles position themselves on the centre right of UK politics.”

Furthermore, Ofcom said the “separation principle is less relevant now (and will be even less relevant in the future) than it was when the sole method of consumption was via print”

Dorries had heard from the Competition and Markets Authority that scrapping the undertakings would have a “significantly positive impact” on News UK’s financial position and ability to adapt to the changing media market.

Dorries said she was “minded to” approve the changes because of the “material change of circumstances” in the news industry since 1981 and since “the impact on media plurality of releasing the undertakings is likely to be limited and that, on balance, releasing the undertakings was unlikely to operate against the public interest needs for free expression of opinion and accuracy of news.”

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