Friday, 16 November 2012

John Walter: perils of press proprietors' dependency on government

Today is the 200th anniversary of the death of John Walter, founder of the Daily Universal Register, which became The Times newspaper. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry records that:

"Like other newspaper proprietors of the period, Walter received money from the Treasury to ensure a degree of favourable coverage. During the later 1780s and 1790s this amounted to £300 a year."

This was at a time when the average weekly wage for a labourer in the Home Counties was 8 shillings (40p).

"Part of the agreement required Walter to publish certain paragraphs approved by the government. However, this turned out to be a disastrous bargain for Walter, since on 21 February 1789 he printed articles from Thomas Steele, the joint secretary of the Treasury, which accused the royal dukes of insincerity in celebrating the king's recovery from illness and of conducting an opposition party. Steele's articles were declared by the courts to be libels on the royal dukes. Walter was sentenced in November to a £50 fine and a year's imprisonment for his attack on the duke of York. While still in prison, Walter was further tried for libels on the prince of Wales and the duke of Clarence, and sentenced to an additional £200 in fines and a further year in prison."

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