Business secretary Lord Mandelson has rejected a plea to scrap an editorial board set up to oversee a regional daily – despite the board calling for its own abolition.
The independent editorial board at the Nottingham Evening Post was established in 1994 as a condition of regional publisher Northcliffe’s purchase of the title from T. Bailey Forman.
Its original purpose included maintaining the paper’s editorial independence and having the final say on the appointment or dismissal of the paper’s editor, currently Malcolm Pheby.
However the board now considers its role obsolete and its chairman, former airline boss Sir Michael Bishop, suggested to Northcliffe’s parent company DMGT that it should be disbanded.
As a result, DMGT wrote to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) last April asking for the condition of sale to be lifted.
But in a ruling today, Lord Mandelson rejected the request, maintaining that the board still served a purpose.
“The original purpose behind requiring an independent editorial board for the NEP related to the desirability of ensuring the editor of that title remained free to take editorial decisions independent of the title’s new owner, Northcliffe,” said a departmental statement.
“Those concerns remain relevant. While there is no evidence to suggest that the NEP editor’s editorial independence is currently constrained, the secretary of state considers that scope remains for the editorial board to serve a practical purpose as originally intended.”
The original condition was imposed owing to concerns at the time of the 1994 sale that it would give Northcliffe too much market dominance in the East Midlands where it also owns two other daily titles.
In its submission, DMGT argued that there had since been “significant changes in the regional newspaper industry leading to greater diversification and competitive pressures.”
The company also highlighted a letter it had received from Sir Michael which said that the body served “little practical purpose.”
However today’s ruling by DBIS also revealed there had been five objections to DMGT’s request, mainly centring on fears that the Post could be merged with other Northcliffe titles in the region. One of the objections was from the National Union of Journalists.
Responding to the ruling, Northcliffe’s deputy managing director Alex Leys said: “Northcliffe Media is content with today’s decision – just as we have been content with the independent editorial board at Nottingham since its inception 14 years ago.
“The suggestion for the editorial board to be dissolved came from the independent directors themselves many months ago. The editorial independence of our newspapers is a quality prized by Northcliffe Media.”