Desmond: Channel Five and Jewish faith

By Rob Lyons, July 29, 2010
Richard Desmond

Richard Desmond

Media mogul Richard Desmond, who has just bought Channel Five, said this week that he retained a strong commitment to the Jewish community.

The 59-year-old billionaire owner of the Daily Express, Daily Star and OK! Magazine - who is famously hands-on with his titles and not afraid of giving its editors a dressing-down - told the JC that, despite the huge task ahead in making the broadcaster profitable, it will not affect his dedication to the Jewish charity Norwood, of which he is president.

He said: "Clearly I'll be involved. But I've always let my editors do the editing and Dawn Airey will be running Channel 5.

"My commitments to the Jewish community are of paramount importance and nothing can change that." However, while Mr Desmond acknowledged that it was "too early" to discuss how Jews and Judaism might be treated on his latest acquisition, he insisted: "My Jewish faith plays a major role in my life."

Channel Five, which cost him £103.5 million, is not Mr Desmond's first foray into TV. There was the ill-fated OK! TV and controversial pay-per-view stations Television X and Red Hot TV. But plans for Five are distinctly different.

He said: "We've got some great programming already such as CSI and Home and Away, and we will build on that solid stable. What I will do is to encourage great British talent as well as further international acquisitions."

The addition of Channel Five to his portfolio has led many to believe that Mr Desmond - who has said he wants to take on "arrogant and monopolistic" ITV - has designs on a Rupert Murdoch-style media empire.

He did not dispute this. He said: "As the deal went through, the song that came to mind was The Carpenters' We've Only Just Begun. We'd love to see further additions to the Northern & Shell family."

Mr Desmond has a fierce reputation for cutting costs to the bone, though "cutting costs" is not a term he uses.

Rather, he said: "When two companies come together, there will be efficiencies which need to be made. When we bought Express Newspapers, for instance, we were paying £50k for a chess correspondent in Latin America."

But at least two programmes are likely to survive the Desmond efficiency axe. He enthused: "I'm a big fan of CSI and, as a drummer, of anything that promotes creative music, so I am keenly watching Don't Stop Believing."

Last updated: 2:00pm, July 29 2010