Friday 26 April 2024

Who Really Funds The Jewish Chronicle?

Gideon Falter’s fake charity was the complainant to the Equality and Human Rights Commission against Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. The Falter fallout continues when even Alan Rusbridger writes:

MPs, peers and journalists recently got very excited over who should be allowed to own a newspaper in the UK. The Telegraph, for the moment, seems safe from falling into the officially designated wrong hands. But what happens if we aren’t sure who is behind the owner of a newspaper—when the ultimate funder of a respected UK media company is a closely guarded secret?

This is not a hypothetical question. Almost no one has any idea who currently funds the Jewish Chronicle, which is both the oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper in the world and the most influential paper serving the Jewish community in Britain.

The paper was founded in 1841 and for 180-odd years its proprietors have been a matter of public record. But that changed four years ago when a mysterious consortium swooped in to rescue the title from threatened liquidation. It was, according to the outgoing chair, Alan Jacobs, “a shameful attempt to hijack” the paper.

The consortium was led by Sir Robbie Gibb, Theresa May’s former spin doctor, now a government-appointed BBC director. In his declaration of interest on the BBC website, Gibb states that he holds a 100 per cent holding of Jewish Chronicle Media.

He is the only person on the register of Persons with Significant Control (which notes that he owns 75 per cent or more of the company) and the sole named officer in filings at Companies House. He signs off the company accounts.

But Gibb himself doesn’t appear to have the kind of money that was needed to rescue the JC. From the latest accounts, filed in March 2024, it looks as if a person, or persons, unknown had loaned the new company £3.5m, which has now been written off. It seems Gibb was, in colloquial terms, the frontman.

But for whom might Gibb be the frontman? He won’t say. I sent a number of questions to the paper’s editor, Jake Wallis Simons, who replied politely, if oddly: “The questions you ask aren’t really for me.” I asked a number of prominent people in the Jewish community. No idea.

Wrack your brains for any precedent in the last century or more where the people behind a takeover of a significant UK newspaper are unknown. I can’t think of one.

It’s easy to see why it matters, and why MPs got so worked up about the “wrong” sort of person being allowed to take control of the Telegraph. Rich men (nearly always men) generally buy media organisations for one of three reasons: profit, influence or philanthropy.

With the JC we can discount profit: it’s safe to say it loses a large six-figure sum each year. So the person, or people, who pumped money into the ailing company in 2022 were either doing so from the goodness of their hearts or because they wanted to exert influence on the JC—and thus on whoever might read it and/or be swayed by its coverage and arguments, especially in relation to Israel.

Well, we don’t know. But imagine a mystery foreign backer with a plausible British frontman buying the Telegraph, on condition that his identity be kept schtum. There would, rightly, be a parliamentary hue and cry about their background and motives.

One of those involved in the Gibb-led consortium told me he now regretted ever being involved because of its “incredibly opaque” nature. He said he and another consortium member had asked directly who the other backers were and found it was “an absolutely closed door”.

Three sources told me they believed that a large slice of the money for the JC came from a right-wing American billionaire, Paul E Singer, sometimes referred to as a “vulture capitalist”. Singer is the founder of Elliott Management and made a fortune—estimated at $6bn—by buying distressed debts and selling them for high value.

He has been described as “a longtime supporter of hawkish pro-Israel causes” and is one of the major funders of the conservative thinktank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, whose positions, according to Slate, “have closely tracked those of the Likud party and its leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu”.

“During the debate over the Iranian nuclear deal, Singer used his fortune to support opponents of the agreement, including by founding an anti-deal Christian group,” reported the Forward, an influential American Jewish newspaper.

If Singer had been involved in the funding of the JC, and had influenced the editorial line, that would be surely a matter of public interest. But a spokesperson for Singer’s hedge-fund company said it was nonsense.

Another person who, it was suggested to me, was involved in the deal is a man named Davis Lewin, who has been attached to various right-wing thinktanks or organisations, including the Henry Jackson Society, the Friends of Israel Initiative and the High Level Military Group. But he is an elusive fellow, so who knows?

It’s hard to see why bailing out a newspaper should be a secret—and there are lots of reasons why it shouldn’t be. The Leveson Inquiry in 2011-12 did its best to work out how assorted owners and proprietors attempted to influence the news. It didn’t get very far—but at least it was working with real faces and real names.

In March, the JC announced it was turning itself into a charitable trust—though without any details of its structure, or details of editorial control. Given the paper’s pungent line during the Israel-Gaza war some doubt that it could plausibly present itself as a charity. In any event, the crucial question is how independent the editor is of the trust. To date: no answers.

The consortium member I spoke to described the JC’s recent coverage of Israel as “my country, right or wrong”.

“My own view is that it does a disservice to the Jewish community because it consolidates this idea that, you know, the Jewish community abroad is in some way sort of complicit by their silence with the excesses of the IDF.”

The consortium member said that he now felt that Wallis Simons, especially in his behaviour on social media, “is behaving like a political activist, not a journalist.”

The coverage of Israel-Gaza—and its editor’s often uninhibited behaviour on social media (“onward to victory!” in posting a video of a huge bomb killing untold people in Gaza city in December)—sits oddly with the impartiality its nominal owner, Gibb, urges when wearing his BBC hat.

In addition to impartiality, Gibb is, along with his fellow BBC directors, signed up to the Nolan principles of accountability and openness. The board’s own website commits them to “submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office”. They should restrict information “only when the wider public interest clearly demands”.

But it seems Gibb doesn’t believe this applies to him beyond his BBC role: he has flatly ignored any of my questions about his role as the sole named director of the JC. Nor will he tell anyone whose money is behind the paper he “owns”.

You wonder how he grapples with the potential conflict of interest.

Firstly, Gibb sits on the key committee looking at editorial standards at the BBC—the coverage of the war in Gaza is about the hottest editorial potato imaginable for the BBC just now. Secondly, his editor, Wallis Simons, has been bitterly critical of the BBC’s reporting of the war. He actively campaigned for a parliamentary inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of Israel and wrote a piece headlined (if not by him): "The BBC’s Israelophobia is out of control, with a subhead explaining that “its distrust of the Jewish state is bordering on pathological”.

How can Gibb possibly back his own editor while sitting on the board of the BBC which is said by the same man to actively hate Israel? Does Gibb, as “owner” of the JC have any control over his editor? Can Gibb, recently re-appointed to the BBC board for four years, seriously ride two horses at one time? Does whoever funds the JC really call the editorial shots? Can parliament veto one category of a named newspaper owner while shrugging at the idea of nameless people backing another?

“Democracy dies in darkness” runs the slogan of one venerable American newspaper. It’s odd that a venerable British newspaper should choose to avoid the light.

We are living in the last days of the scam that was supposed to have discredited for at least two generations the idea of using the power of the State to secure greater economic equality; the scam on which is based the supposed legitimacy of the present Labour Leadership; the scam that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition shout at each in pantomime fashion every Wednesday lunchtime.

When I tell you that there is going to be a hung Parliament, then you can take that to the bank. I spent the 2005 Parliament saying that it was psephologically impossible for the Heir to Blair’s Conservative Party to win an overall majority. I predicted a hung Parliament on the day that the 2017 General Election was called, and I stuck to that, entirely alone, all the way up to the publication of the exit poll eight long weeks later. And on the day that Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, I predicted that a General Election between him and Keir Starmer would result in a hung Parliament.

I have no plan to join the Workers Party of Britain, although nor would I expect to stand against it. But if it did not contest North Durham, then I would. To strengthen families and communities by securing economic equality and international peace through the democratic political control of the means to those ends, including national and parliamentary sovereignty, we need to hold the balance of power. Owing nothing to either main party, we must be open to the better offer. But there does need to be a better offer. Not a lesser evil, which in any case the Labour Party is not. We have made a start.


  1. We saved the Telegraph, one of Britain’s oldest broadsheets, from falling into the hands of a foreign despotism. A free press cannot be state owned, by definition. The Telegraph’s opposition to that takeover was therefore perfectly in line with its principles and those of anyone who supports a genuinely free press.

    1. It was in line with the Telegraph's principles, all right...

    2. And those of anyone who supports a free press. The whole point of defeating the horrific Miliband-backed Leveson was to save free newspapers from state regulation. It would have been ridiculous if we had defeated that only for our newspapers to end up run by an Arab dictatorship.

    3. I think that we can all see who has turned out to be ridiculous. Hey, ho, any future Government has the Telegraph by the short and curlies now.

  2. We were never going to let the Telegraph fall to the Islamists. Britain would no longer be a free country without a free press.

    1. You know what, I do not even think that you are joking.

      Oh, well, whoever is in Government has the Telegraph now.

  3. Yesterday's pro-Israel protest was pathetic.