Document:Who really funds the Jewish Chronicle?

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Two years ago, a mysterious consortium came to the rescue of the beleaguered publication—and nobody is really clear about who is behind the scenes. But openness matters, especially when politics is involved

Disclaimer (#3)Document.png Article  by Alan Rusbridger dated 26 April 2024
Subjects: Jewish Chronicle, Sir Robbie Gibb, Jake Wallis Simons, Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Source: Prospect (Link)

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Who really funds the Jewish Chronicle? Why it’s troubling that we don’t know…

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 two 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 Ltd.[1]

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.[2]

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.[3]

He has been described as “a longtime supporter of hawkish pro-Israel causes”[4] 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”.[5]

“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.[6]

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 actively campaigned against the BBC’s reporting of the war. He campaigned for a parliamentary inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of Israel and has written that the BBC’s “Israelophobia… is out of control” and “its distrust of the Jewish state is bordering on pathological”.[7]

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.


This piece has been amended to make it clear that Jake Wallis Simons has been bitterly critical of the BBC’s reporting of the war as well as campaigning over the organisation’s coverage of Israel; and that he did not himself write the headline on the article he contributed to Spiked. A further update makes clear that the unknown consortium rescued the Jewish Chronicle from threatened liquidation four years ago rather than two.