John Witherow has been announced as the acting editor of the Times, with Mike Darcey, News International’s chief executive, confirming in a statement issued late on Friday night that Witherow’s appointment was "effective immediately, and subject to formal approval as editor by the independent directors" of Times Newspapers.
Darcey also confirmed that Martin Ivens, deputy editor since 1996, has become acting editor of the Sunday Times.
However, according to reports, Witherow and Ivens have been limited to acting editor roles as the independent directors refused to endorse their appointments over a row regarding Rupert Murdoch’s merger plans.
In 1981, when Murdoch bought the two newspapers, he assured Margaret Thatcher’s government that the two would remain distinct. To protect editorial freedom, a vote from an independent body of directors was needed prior to the permanent appointment of new editors.
While News Corp's has denied plans to merge the two newspapers, the unconvinced directors want News Corp to share any future proposals and until then will not endorse the two editors.
Darcey went on to say in the statement: "A thorough assessment of the undertakings will enable [the independent directors] to make recommendations to us and to government as to how the newspapers can be structured in order to reduce their costs and become economically viable.”
"However, during this interim period of continued consultation over the undertakings, we still have a responsibility to provide these two newspapers and their journalists with strong and stable leadership. Given John Witherow's distinguished record serving as editor of the Sunday Times over the last 18 years, we are putting him on leave from the Sunday Times and appointing him acting editor of the Times."