Why is there a Guardian?

Ian Willmore ianw at foe.co.uk
Fri Mar 14 09:56:03 MST 2003

Lou Paulsen asked how The Guardian came, as it were, to be.

The Guardian newspaper has a different ownership structure than most UK (and of course
US) newspapers. It is owned by an entity called the "Scott Trust"

The Guardian website says "The Scott Trust was created in 1936 to maintain the
journalistic and commercial principles pursued by C P Scott, the long-time editor of
The Manchester Guardian, and to avoid crippling death duties." The Trust is a
self-perpetuating body that appoints trustees from among the ranks of the liberal
great and good. It has ten trustees, including members of the Scott family. The
current chairman is HugoYoung, ponderous Guardian columnist and former big
journalistic cheese at the Sunday Times (where he had more than a hand in the Hitler
Diaries fiasco).

The Guardian and Observer (I have occasionally written for both, and do stuff from my
job for Observer Online) are indeed intelligent centre-left newspapers. They also
employ some journalists with left and far-left politics. But their editorial line is
traditionally Liberal, rather than Labour or socialist. The Guardian famously caved in
to the state over the prosecution of whistleblower civil servant Sarah Tisdall (the
paper returned leaked documents to the Government under legal threats). The Observer
is backing war on Iraq, a huge editorial boo-boo that has enraged legions of its
readers. I prefer either to the Washington Times, but it pays to be careful!

The Scott Trust ownership structure has prevented The Guardian and The Observer from
being swallowed by any of the succession of evil, crazed and reactionary newspaper
barons that have infested the British media throughout the 20th century. Current
examples include Canadian ultra-right billionaire Conrad Black, secretive financiers
who also have a stake in Sears, the Ritz etc, and of course the gruesome Rupert
Murdoch, whom I believe has also spread to foreign parts. (Hey, we get Fox News now on
Sky Digital TV - my God, it's deranged! I do worry about you US chaps, you know.)
Previous choice specimens included the vile Lord Rothermere - owner of the Daily Mail,
perpetrator of the Zinoviev Letter forgery during the 1924 General Election and big
fan of the fascist idiot Oswald Mosely.

Lou suggests that the political centre of the UK may be to the left of the US. Hmmmm.
In a way, it is I suppose. Just. But it is well to the right of most of Europe in a
number of important respects. We do have a tradition of vigorous journalism, albeit
distorted by the political bias and ownership structure of our newspapers. I prefer
our newspapers to those of the US because they are less supine, and less willing to
believe what the Government tells them. But frankly it's not much of a choice, a lot
of the time.

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