News International announced late on Friday that Witherow had been put on leave from The Sunday Times, a newspaper he has edited for the past 18 years, and had been appointed acting editor of The Times.
Martin Ivens, Witherow’s long-standing deputy, has been appointed acting editor of the Sunday paper.
Undertakings agreed by News Corporation chairman and chief executive Rupert Murdoch in 1981, the editorial teams of The Times and The Sunday Times can not be combined and editors’ appointments must be approved by a panel of independent directors.
Two weeks before Harding’s resignation Mike Darcey, the former chief operating officer of BSkyB, was appointed chief executive of News International, replacing former Sky Italia chief executive Tom Mockridge.
Darcey said the acting appointments would provide the newspapers and their journalist with "strong and stable leadership" while there is a "thorough assessment of the undertakings".
In a statement Darcey said he welcomed the independent directors' "clear understanding of the very difficult financial position of our newspapers and therefore the need to address the undertakings".
Darcey said the independent directors will make recommendations to us and to government as to "how the newspapers can be structured in order to reduce their costs and become economically viable".
Full statement from Mike Darcey:
Following a meeting of the Independent National Directors of The Times and The Sunday Times yesterday we welcome their clear understanding of the very difficult financial position of our newspapers and therefore the need to address the Undertakings given in 1981. A thorough assessment of the undertakings will enable them to make recommendations to us and to government as to how the newspapers can be structured in order to reduce their costs and become economically viable.
However, during this interim period of continued consultation over the Undertakings, we still have a responsibility to provide these two newspapers and their journalists with strong and stable leadership. Given John Witherow’s distinguished record serving as editor of The Sunday Times over the last 18 years, we are putting him on leave from The Sunday Times and appointing him acting editor of The Times, effective immediately, and subject to formal approval as editor by the independent directors.Follow @MaisieMcCabe