In a potentially far-reaching dispute over editorial control of one of Britain's most influential newspapers, Australian press magnate Rupert Murdoch announced tonight that he has forced the resignation of Harold Evans as editor of The Times.
But Evans, Britain's best known newspaper editor, has not commented on the announcement of his resignation, and other Times journalists said he was still editing the paper. Murdoch bought the paper a year ago and installed Evans to improve news coverage and circulation.
As Evans arrived at work this morning, he told reporters, "I'm editing The Times," but he acknowledged later that Murdoch had asked him to resign earlier this week. Times sources said he was holding out for a "dignified" form of exit after initially resisting Murdoch's efforts to remove him.
A close associate of Evans, Times features editor Anthony Holden, had said earlier today that Murdoch, who owns papers in Britain, Australia and the United States, "is trying to impose his right-wing views on The Times and Harry is resisting."
But, without explaining why he asked Evans to resign, Murdoch said in a statement issued tonight from New York, where he owns the Post, that "at no point has there been any difference, stated or otherwise, between Mr. Evans and myself about the policy of the paper."
Murdoch said in his statement that he had asked Evans to resign on Tuesday and would replace him with the newspaper's deputy editor, Charles Douglas-Home. The statement said Evans' resignation had been delayed only by negotiations over severance pay and terms and that these had now been agreed on.
Gerald Long, managing director of Times Newspapers, has told the paper's staff that the dispute is over costs rather than editorial control. Times journalists said Evans has been accused of overspending while Murdoch has been trying to cut costs to reduce losses estimated at more than $20 million a year.
The Times newsroom has been divided and thrown into turmoil by the unfolding melodrama of charges and countercharges.
Some old hands disapproved of editorial and personnel changes Evans made after being moved by Murdoch from editor of the Sunday Times, where he won many awards, to make the traditionally staid, establishment-oriented Times more readable. Its circulation of about 300,000 is second-lowest among Britain's nine national newspapers.
Evans' supporters said Murdoch also wanted Evans to move the newspaper's editorial and opinion columns to the right, nearer to Murdoch's political views and to his concept of how The Times can best capture new readers, especially Conservatives.
Holden, former Washington correspondent of the Sunday Observer whom Evans hired to edit The Times' op-ed page, said Murdoch has objected to published contributions from union leaders and left-wing intellectuals even though they were balanced by other contributors.
"Mr. Murdoch has very right-wing views and wishes his newspapers to reflect those views," Holden said. "Mr. Evans is well known for his international reputation as an editor of integrity and independence and has defended the principle that an editor of a national newspaper in this country should have the right to present a diversity of views and have the right of independence from the views of his proprietor."
European newspapers are more overtly partisan in their news and editorials than many U.S. papers.
Some British newspapers have also always reflected the political views of their owners, both left and right. But before Murdoch bought The Times and the Sunday Times, editors of those papers prized their editorial independence.
To gain government approval of his purchase of The Times--since he already owned other newspapers here including the tabloid Sun, Britain's largest selling national daily--Murdoch agreed to maintain that editorial independence. Evans' supporters contend that agreement is legally binding, and several members of Parliament have questioned whether Murdoch is violating it.
Murdoch said the directors of The Times had approved his removal of Evans. According to Holden and others at the paper, however, the directors had refused to vote on a proposal by Murdoch to fire Evans. But, according to some sources, they indicated that they would not object if Evans voluntarily resigned and was replaced, as Murdoch had suggested, by Douglas-Home, 44, nephew of Conservative former prime minister Alec Douglas-Home.