Friday 18 January 2019 12:56 pm

Murdoch eyes up mega-merger between The Times and The Sunday Times

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Media baron Rupert Murdoch is seeking permission to merge The Times and The Sunday Times in a bid to cut costs across the newspapers.

News UK, the holding group for the two titles, has made an application to the government to overturn a law that prevents the titles from merging.

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The newspaper group said the move, first reported by The Daily Telegraph, would allow it to share resources between the two titles, but insisted they would remain separate papers with separate editors.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) this afternoon published an invitation to comment on the newspaper group's request. A written ministerial statement will be laid in parliament on Monday, it said.

The ban was put in place when Murdoch acquired the paper in 1981 amid concerns about the Australian tycoon’s control over the UK media.

If the law is overturned it could see journalists working across both titles. It is not clear whether the move would lead to job cuts.

John Witherow, editor of The Times, said: “The persistent cost pressures facing our industry mean that we need to manage our newsrooms as carefully as possible.

“We need to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult market so that we can continue to build a sustainable future for Times journalism.”

News UK said the change would give the organisation greater flexibility and help it contend with the digital disruption rocking the industry.

In an email sent to reporters, Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said the company was attempting to avoid “unnecessary duplication”.

“The Sunday Times remains the biggest selling broadsheet in Britain and to protect our distinctive voice we need the freedom to work more closely to avoid duplication and invest more in the agenda-setting journalism we are famous for,” Ivens said in a statement.

The Times and The Sunday Times, which both have their headquarters in the News Building at London Bridge, currently operate with different editorial staff.

While The Sunday Times came out in support of Brexit, The Times backed the Remain campaign.

Last week News UK revealed it swung to profit in 2018, with digital subscribers overtaking print subscribers for the first time.

This came in stark contrast to the woes of The Sun and The Sun on Sunday publisher News Group Newspapers, which reported pre-tax loss of £91.2m in the year to July.

Both publishers fall under the umbrella of Murdoch’s media empire, which is undergoing vast change amid the sales of 21st Century Fox and Sky. 

Read more: Murdoch's media empire stung by Sun losses

In its application to lift the prohibition on the sharing of resources, News UK said said that separate publication of daily and Sunday titles is “an obsolete approach”.

In a letter to Jeremy Wright, secretary of state for DCMS, the independent directors of Times Newspapers argued that the change sought “does not alter our responsibility to protect the editorial independence of the titles”.