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The Independent is a British newspaper founded in 1986. Throughout its history, it has generally taken a centrist and liberal stance, although it is now owned by the son of a Russian oligarch and some Saudis, so it may not be entirely trustworthy.
It is associated with sister paper The Independent on Sunday, and i, a quick-to-read version of the newspaper, although i is no longer part of the same newspaper group.
It shouldn't be confused with the Irish Independent (launched in 1905), or the American Congregationalist magazine The Independent (1848-1928), or The Independent Group (a short-lived British political party).
The Independent launched as a daily newspaper on 7 October 1986, the creation of three former Daily Telegraph journalists, Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover, and Matthew Symonds; it was owned by a new company, Newspaper Publishing. The first editor was Whittam Smith, who set out its stance as a newspaper that would not be dominated by either "union restrictive practices or … the political prejudices of the typical newspaper proprietor".
It was very much the product of its time. Whittam Smith's worries about the influence of newspaper proprietors were doubtless influenced by Rupert Murdoch's purchase of The Times and The Sunday Times. The Independent, as its name suggested, would be independent of controlling and interventionist proprietors like Murdoch or Robert Maxwell (for a while at least). But it was also the creation of an era where newspaper technology was changing and it was possible to produce a paper with fewer staff, getting rid of a lot of the traditional, well-paid, unionised technical workforce and replacing them with computers. This chimed in a way with Thatcherism and wider changes in British industry and business. The Independent aimed at a new market of prosperous readers who didn't want the geriatric Times and Telegraph but weren't willing to get the worthy, muesli-eating Guardian either.
It launched a Sunday paper, The Independent on Sunday in 1990. In 2003 The Independent began publishing a tabloid edition alongside the broadsheet, and the following year the broadsheet was discontinued. It was also a pioneer of online publishing, and the print edition stopped in 2016.
In 1998 it was purchased by Irish businessman Tony O'Reilly. In 2010, he sold it for the nominal sum of £1 to Russian oligarch and former KGB agent Alexander Lebedev, who also owned London daily The Evening Standard; Lebedev put his son Evgeny in charge. Ownership was subsequently transferred to Evgeny Lebedev, who held dual British and Russian citizenship and was nominated by Boris Johnson for a seat in the UK House of Lords, so he must be OK (haw-haw).
Alexander Lebedev was a lieutenant-colonel in the KGB, the Soviet Union's security agency. Both Lebedevs have had a close relationship with British prime minister Boris Johnson: the Lebedevs owned the main London paper the Evening Standard and supported Johnson when he was Mayor of London. Johnson held a private, off-the-record meeting with Lebedev senior in Italy in 2018. After the Guardian first reported this, they added:
That first article prompted a Guardian reader to write in with further details. They had seen Johnson at Perugia’s San Francesco d’Assisi airport alone, without any luggage, in a dishevelled, hungover state “looking like he had slept in his clothes” and “struggling to walk in a straight line”.
In 2017-18, 30% shares of the Independent and Evening Standard were sold to a mysterious Saudi investment group fronted by Sultan Mohamed Abuljadayel, leaving it not entirely clear who owned the newspapers or might exert control over them. At the same time, the Lebedev stake was reduced to 41%, and "entrepreneur" Justin Byam Shaw acquired 26%, with a few minor investors owning the rest. Abuljadayel himself is a wealthy businessman inherited a lot of money from his family's property holdings, although not a member of the Saudi Royal Family. It later emerged that investments in both the Independent and Evening Standard had been made via two companies, International Media Company and Scalable Inc, both registered in the Cayman Islands, a British Overseas Territory well known as a tax haven; these companies were owned 50% by Abuljadayel and 50% by Wondrous Investments, which was itself ultimately owned by the National Commercial Bank of Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi investment was partly with the aim of expanding the Independent brand into the Middle East. An Arabic version was launched in January 2019, with its chief editor Adhwan Alahmary, a keen supporter of Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. So what if the Crown Prince had Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi murdered and then dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul?
It has also at times supported:
The Independent has carried pro-Putin pieces by father and son Lebedev. In 2014 after Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea, Alexander wrote in the Independent about the need for compromise over the peninsula, saying that the west should rethink its opposition and in return Russia "should clarify the causes for its annexation, even if it retains its control over the peninsula". In 2017, following Donald Trump's election as US President, Evgeny wrote an opinion piece for the Independent about how Trump and Putin should work together with the British government to combat Islamist terrorism. Evgeny Lebedev also made several statements in praise of Putin and cast doubts on Putin's involvement in the murder-by-radionuclide poisoning of former FSB (Russian Federal Security Service, successor of the KGB) agent Alexander Litvinenko in England in 2006.
The purchase of 30% of the title by a Saudi investor attracted criticism and fears that the paper would be less critical of the often brutal policies of the Saudi government.
In 2021, it emerged that the Independent and Evening Standard had both received money from the Saudi government to publish greenwashing stories about how environmentally friendly the Saudi government was and to promote a government campaign called the Saudi Green Initiative, around the time of the COP26 climate change summit. Most of the content was labelled as "partner content", indicating it had been sponsored, although some from the Independent was later republished on sites such as Yahoo! News without any indication of who had funded it. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's biggest oil producers, so it is not environmentally-friendly.
The i was founded by the Independent's owners as a cheap, compact newspaper, for people without the time to read a weighty broadsheet. It was bought by local newspaper group Johnson Press in 2016, separating it from the Independent, and then acquired by the Daily Mail's owners in 2019.
- Boris Johnson’s Russian crony Evgeny Lebedev got peerage after spies dropped warning by Gabriel Pogrund & Harry Yorke (March 05 2022) The Times.
- Saudi state part-owns Evening Standard and Independent, court told, The Guardian, 23 July 2019
- UK Newspapers Accepted Money to Publish Positive Environmental Stories About Saudi Arabia Around COP26, Byline Times, 29 November 2021
- Independent History, Historic Newspapers blog
- Ex-KGB man Alexander Lebedev buys Independent for £1, The Guardian, 26 March 2010
- Boris Johnson and the Lebedevs: how I exposed the prime minister’s defining scandal, Carole Cadwalladr, The Guardian, 16 July 2022
- Is the Independent still independent?, Amol Rajan, BBC News, 29 July 2017
- UK criticises Saudi purchase of newspaper stakes in court, Financial Times, 23 July 2019
- Saudi publisher tied to royals launches Arabic version of The Independent, Middle East Eye, 26 January 2019
- US finds Saudi crown prince approved Khashoggi murder but does not sanction him, The Guardian, 26 Feb 2021
- Five climate commitments to you as we face the defining issue of our times, 13 Oct 2021
- Analysis: How UK newspapers changed their minds about climate change, Carbon Brief, 2021
- Our democracy is broken – Britain needs electoral reform now, Femi Oluwole, The Independent, 31 July 2021
- Consider decriminalisation to tackle drug death ‘crisis’, say treatment providers in unprecedented plea, The Independent, 1 Dec 2019
- Senior doctor calls for drugs law reform, The Independent, 17 Aug 2010
- The Independent, Media Bias Fact Check, accessed 2 Sept 2022
- Russia and the West need a compromise over the Crimea, Alexander Lebedev and Vladislav Inozemtsev, The Independent, 8 November 2014
- The thaw in US relations with Russia offers a chance to fight terror together, Evgeny Lebedev, The Independent, 27 January 2017
- The Ersatz Kremlin Critic, Mic Wright, Byline Times, 9 March 2022
- Evening Standard owner Lebedev uses front page to urge Putin to halt invasion, The Independent, 28 Feb 2022
- Saudi investor buys into The Independent website, i, July 30, 2017
- See the Wikipedia article on i (newspaper).