Ten Scottish Newspapers are owned by three billionaires

Ten of Scotland’s major newspapers are owned by just three men: Rupert Murdoch, Lord Rothermere and Frederick Barclay. They are all billionaires who, personally or through their businesses, have used the law to avoid paying tax.

Analysis by The Ferret reveals that all but one of Scotland’s national newspapers, The Sunday Post, are owned in other countries. As many as 25 titles are run by firms in London, eight of which belong to parent companies in the US and Asia.

Media campaigners, who believe Scotland’s media is “dominated by a small group of corporations with a narrow range of views”, called for reform.

Reach PLC publishes the most Scottish nationals – Daily Record, Sunday Mail, Daily Star of Scotland, Scottish Daily Express and Scottish Sunday Express, as well as The Mirror.

The London-based firm is chaired by Nicholas Prettejohn, who was a member of the now-closed BBC Trust and chief executive of insurance giants Prudential and Lloyd’s of London. He also chairs Scottish Widows and is non-executive director of Lloyds Banking Group.

Glasgow-born Jim Mullen, Reach’s chief executive, held senior roles at gambling firms. He is also non-executive director of Racecourse Media Group and former director of digital strategy and product management at News UK.

The London-based News UK publishes the Scottish Sun, Scottish Sun on Sunday, and the Scotland editions of The Times and Sunday Times. Chief executive Rebekah Brooks was an editor of The Sun, and the publisher’s now-defunct tabloid, News of World, which ceased publication following a phone hacking scandal.

Billionaire Rupert Murdoch, the Australian-born US media magnate, is founder and executive chairman of News UK’s parent company, News Corp, based in New York City. His company paid zero UK corporation tax during the 1990s.

Fellow billionaire press baron, Lord Rothermere, is chairman of the London-based Daily Mail and General Trust (DMGT), which owns the Scottish Daily Mail, Scottish Mail on Sunday and the Scottish editions the Metro and the i, via its DMG Media subsidiary.

We’re calling on policymakers, platforms and philanthropists to help build a more diverse, plural and sustainable news ecosystem

Spokesperson for Public Interest News Foundation

According to Private Eye, Rothermere inherited DMGT through a Bermuda-registered company run from Jersey – both known tax havens – and used his non-domiciled status to reduce his tax liability.

Figures show News Corp, DMG and Reach accounted for more than two-thirds of UK newspaper revenue in 2020, taking 26.5, 24 and 21 per cent respectively.

JPI Media publishes The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday as well as around 20 Scottish locals including Edinburgh Evening News. The publisher and its parent company, National World Plc are both London based.

National World is owned by Northern Irish media mogul, David Montgomery. He once edited News of The World, was chief executive of Reach’s predecessor, Mirror Group, chief executive of News UK, and director of Sky’s predecessor, Satellite Television.

The Herald, Herald on Sunday, The National and the Sunday National, plus more than 20 Scottish locals including the Glasgow Times, are published by the London-based Newsquest Media Group. Chief executive, Henry Faure Walker, was previously digital director at JPI Media’s predecessor.

Newsquest’s parent company, Gannett, is headquartered in the US state of Virginia.

The Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph Scotland editions are owned by the London-based Telegraph Media Group. It is a subsidiary of the London-based Press Acquisitions Limited, which in-turn is owned by May Corporation Limited, according to company accounts.

Photo Credit: iStock/AoiHone

The Jersey-registered parent firm is ultimately owned by billionaire Frederick Barclay. He has mostly lived between two tax havens – his island in the Channel Islands and Monaco – using offshore trusts to control his businesses, according to the Financial Times.

Dundee-headquartered DC Thomson publishes the national title, The Sunday Post and regional papers The Courier, Dundee Evening Telegraph, the Press and Journal and the Aberdeen Evening Express. According to its website, DC Thompson’s four directors are all descendants of original founder, William Thomson.

The left-wing Morning Star, which launched a trial Scottish edition following the election of Richard Leonard as Scottish Labour leader, is owned by the People’s Press Printing Society (PPPS), a London-based reader’s cooperative and registered society.

The Guardian and The Observer do not have dedicated Scottish print editions, but are widely available in Scotland. Their publisher, Guardian Media Group (GMG), and its owner, The Scott Trust Limited, are both London-based.

The trust, named after The Guardian’s original editor and owner CP Scott, is currently chaired by Ole Jacob Sunde. He has chaired Scandinavia’s largest media group since 2002 and a Nordic wealth management firm.

Democracy needs media institutions that act in the public interest, rather than the interests of billionaire owners or powerful corporations. Without a media freed from corporate and government interests, democracy flounders and fails.

Spokesperson for Media Reform Coalition

The Financial Times is on sale across Scotland. Part of the London-based Financial Times Group Limited, the title is owned by the Tokyo-based Japanese media giant, Nikkei Inc.

The print editions of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday have been online only since 2016, so are not included in our list of Scotttish titles. It belongs to the London-registered Independent Digital News & Media Limited, of which Russian-born billionaire and son of former KGB agent, Lord Evgeny Lebedev, is the majority owner.

A longtime friend of Boris Johnson, Lebedev joined the House of Lords after being nominated by the Prime Minister to do so in 2020. The previous year, Lebedev sold a stake of between 25 and 50 per cent in his company to Saudi Arabian investor, Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel.

A UK Government legal representative later told a court that a series of “unconventional, complex and clandestine” deals were used to hide the sale of stakes to a Saudi government bank via an offshore Cayman Islands firm.

TV, radio and online

The publicly-owned BBC Scotland, headquartered in Glasgow, has several TV channels, radio stations and an online news service. Director Steve Carson has held numerous different roles at the BBC, founded an Irish independent production company and was director of programmes at RTÉ Television.

STV, owned by STV Group PLC, is also based in Glasgow with news broadcast via its TV channel. It is a separate entity to its England and Wales equivalent, ITV. Group chair Paul Reynolds has held senior positions at BT and other telecoms firms. Director Simon Pitts has held several senior roles at ITV.

Channel 4 has a creative hub in Glasgow and it’s publicly-owned channel’s board is appointed by media regulator, Ofcom, in agreement with the UK Government media secretary.

Independently owned media in Scotland includes the online political and cultural comment magazine, Bella Caledonia, and investigative journalism cooperative The Ferret which is not-for-profit. Both organisations are Edinburgh-registered.

The Public Interest News Foundation (PINF) charity, which supports independent news providers, said The Ferret’s analysis showed change was needed. 

“We’re calling on policymakers, platforms and philanthropists to help build a more diverse, plural and sustainable news ecosystem,” a spokesperson added.

The Media Reform Coalition, which recently published a report on UK media ownership, called for protections “against further losses of media plurality”.

A spokesperson claimed media ownership “creates conditions in which wealthy individuals and organisations can amass vast political and economic power and distort the media landscape to suit their interests”.

They added: “Too often these interests are entirely commercially driven and totally disconnected from the country or region in which the news is produced and circulated.

“Democracy needs media institutions that act in the public interest, rather than the interests of billionaire owners or powerful corporations. Without a media freed from corporate and government interests, democracy flounders and fails.”

This investigation is part of our Who Runs Scotland series. We will be shedding a light on ownership and power in Scotland’s economy, environment and politics.

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This article was updated to correct the name of Reach chairman, Nicholas Prettlejohn. We previously stated his name was Richard Prettlejohn. We also removed a line that said Gannett’s chief executive and president was Paul Bascobert. We later learned that Bascobert had left the company, which had not updated its website’s list of board members.

Photo Credit: iStock/nata_zhekova

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