Op-Ed on the Scott Trust, 1973
Our owners : the Seott Trust It ma sound incestuous or immodest if the Guardian gives thanks for the Scott Trust. But the fact that the paper is owned by a trust one whose sole object is public service remains the reason why the Guardian exists today. It could have been sold, merged, or converted to Conservatism at high profit to its owners manv times in its history. It has been kept alive, vigorous, and independent because C. P. Scott wanted it so and because his descendants created a trust, renouncing their own personal benefit from ownership, in order to cairy on the paper " in the same spirit as heretofore." heretofore." The Scott Trust is unique in British newspaper newspaper ow nership. No other trust involves renunciation renunciation of beneficial ownership Its origins are described on page 17 today the centenary of C. P. Scott's appointment as editor, leading to his purchase of the paper, and so eventually to creation of the Trust. Trust ownership is not a device that all newspapers newspapers can or should adopt. Part of the strength of the British press lies in the wide variety of its control and character. Nowhere else in the world notwithstanding Mr Wilson's criticism of " unanimity and uniformity " does the reader have such a range of choice among styles and viewpoints in daily newspapers. But the choice has narrowed in recent years, and economic forces could make it narrower still. Rising costs, stiffer competition, and the growth of television may take their toll These forces could be resisted more readily if one or two more of the national newspapers and of those outside London could come under the ownership of individual trusts. Even during Mr Wilson's own period as Prime Minister, because of the 1966-7 1966-7 1966-7 crisis in the newspaper, newspaper, industry, various expedients for helping the press were considered but all rejected. Had , more newspapers then been under trust owner-j, owner-j, owner-j, ship, one or other of those expedients might have "been usefully adopted. Instead, it was suspected that even the most politically impartial interven- interven- ' tion would turn out merely to have sustained strong commercial interests. ,. To create an effective trust means a major sacrifice by the owners. They hae to renounce financial benefit and much of their political control. control. That is why the biggest popular papers are never likely to come under trust ownership they are too profitable and have too often been vehicles for their proprietors' political ambitions. The late Lord Beaverbrook made the Daily Express a sizzling publication, worth millions of pounds, but he did it chiefly for " propaganda " purposes (as he himelf said) Even newspapers whose life has seemed done, as recently the Daily Mail and the Sun, have regenerated themselves with, new management or new proprietors. That again shows the strength to be found in the diversity of the British press. While our society is based on a mixed economy which it probably will be for generations to come it seems appropriate appropriate that some newspapers should be under chiefly commercial ownership and some under public service ownership. Even a public service trust, however, must organise its papers so that together they make a profit. The Scott Trust has done so by running the Guardian and the Manchester Evening News together as a partnership. partnership. The losses of one can be offset by the profits of the other, and each has had its periods of prosperity. That a group must pay its way commercially, whatever its form of ownership, is an essential condition of survival. The Scott Trust has brought one other benefit to the Guardian that of an exceptional editorial freedom. The only instruction given to the editor on appointment is to carry on the paper' in the same spirit as before. While he holds office he is free from political or personal interference by trustees or directors. It is an enviable position, though also one that carries a serious responsibility. In the words of C. P., the newspaper is " an instrument of government," playing on the minds and consciences of men: That today it has more readers than ever before is some comfort : and, in keeping with its spirit it is created through a constant process of infor mal consultation with its staff. All newspapers are corporate products, and none more so than this. If it is being carried on in the same spirit as before, that is enough of an achievement.