15 MAY 2004, Page 34

Subsidising the Blacks

From Charlie Methven Sir: In last week's Diary, Stuart Reid became the latest of several Spectator journalists to write, as yet unchallenged, in support of Lord Black. 'Black may have pulled a fast one, but he has not corrupted anyone,' claimed Mr Reid. 'He is a civil and civilised man. He has put his financial and intellectual muscle behind . . . the Daily Telegraph and The Spectator.'

I cannot speak for The Spectator, but as a section editor at the Telegraph and the father of the Telegraph Group NUJ chapel until recently, I do know a little about how Lord Black's proprietorship affected the Daily Telegraph and its journalists.

During Lord Black's tenure, circulation fell by about 300,000 (our main competitors, the Times and the Daily Mail, increased circulation substantially during the same period). Journalists' salaries fell, in real terms, by about 30 per cent; the cover-price rose by 100 per cent.

Meanwhile, profits increased by an average of about £50 million; executive pay (now under investigation in the US) went through the roof; the company acquired two private jets; the chairman acquired a peerage.

Given these uncomfortable facts, would it not be more accurate to say that the Daily Telegraph (and its redoubtable readership) put its financial muscle behind Lord Black, rather than the other way round? As Mr Reid himself might say, `Go figure.'

Charlie Methven

London SW3