Editor Pays Price of Editorial Independence

23 May 2001

Michael Pilgrim, editor of the Sunday Express, arrived yesterday at the newspaper’s London offices to find that his security pass had been cancelled and his access to the building blocked.

Pilgrim’s progress had been barred by order of Express Newspapers’ proprietor, the porn baron Richard Desmond, who last autumn acquired the group for £125 million from United News & Media [WAMN: 23-Nov-00].

Pilgrim had offended his proprietor with an outmoded notion that an editor’s job is to edit and a reporter’s to report. This quaint viewpoint was expressed in a memo to Desmond following the latter’s alleged suppression of an investigative story about financier Alan Shepard, held back at the instigation of a mutual friend, a blue comic and gameshow host called Jim Davidson.

An article about civil engineering group Alfred McAlpine was reportedly also spiked on the grounds that it could put ad revenues at risk. But according to one insider, investigative journalism was not absolute anathema to Desmond, who allegedly ordered journalists to excavate dirt about rival newspaper tycoon Conrad Black, owner of the Telegraph titles, who is currently embroiled in a printing dispute with Desmond.

Unfortunately for Pilgrim his confidential memo of protest to Desmond was leaked verbatim, much to the delight of rival newspapers which gleefully published his allegations, such as being asked to “suppress evidence of wrongdoing", hold back news for "commercial reasons" and run “unjustified stories to settle scores”.

According to Express Newspapers, Pilgrim left by “mutual agreement”. He is expected to be replaced by Martin Townsend, editor of the Desmond-owned celeb-trivia title OK! magazine.

News source: CampaignLive (UK)