If Paul Dacre is the unchallengeable and dominant Alex Ferguson of British Newspaper Editors, Alan Rusbridger is probably Arsene Wenger: flashes of brilliance and an attractive style, but underperformance in the premier league of UK print sales. This would make James Harding Jose Mourinho: a great leader, but swiftly replaced when there is a difference of opinion with the real seat of power- the owner of the team.
The sudden replacement of the Times editor during sensitive negotiations about the future of UK press regulation – he was the chair of the crucial Delaunay meeting of editors last week – does raise questions. Obviously the owners of the Times have every right to disagree about the negotiations and replace the Editor. But in so doing they reveal the weakness of a negotiation that at first appears to be a genuine engagement between journalists about how to avoid the excesses of the past and support great journalism – but is in fact a negotiation beween owners about how to lessen ‘regulatory burden’ and ‘compliance costs’.
As Manuel Puppis, Sally Broughton-Micova and I pointed out here most press councils in Europe are not initiatives of owners but of cooperation between journalists, owners and other stakeholders. It remains to be seen if the independent directors of the Times have any view on this turn of events.
Someone has to negotiate during this period of political dealmaking of course, but this process is a shambles. If political leaders can agree on one thing, surely they should agree that once the general framework is agreed, newspaper groups should be encouraged to establish a stable, legitimate and transparent working group or commission with a wider group of stakeholders to work on the details of the regulator and code. There should be representation of journalists, including the NUJ, and a clear remit to establish a new institution. Not a cabinet of puppets.