A newspaper war in Aberdeen has escalated with the Aberdeen &
District Independent accusing its rival, Aberdeen Journals, of using
underhand methods in an attempt to put it out of business.
The Office of Fair Trading has had to seek a second assurance from
Aberdeen Journals that it will not act in an anti-competitive manner
after it flouted an earlier promise given in August 1997.
The OFT acted after complaints that Northcliffe-owned Aberdeen Journals
offered discounts to advertisers if they agreed not to advertise in the
Paul Robins, managing director of the Independent, has further alleged
that Aberdeen Journals has threatened to bar advertisers who do business
with his newspaper and has offered free full-page ads in the Herald &
Post as an inducement to pull out of the Independent.
’It took the OFT 14 months to get a first informal assurance and then
Aberdeen Journals took no bloody notice,’ complained Robins. ’If we
hadn’t got such good staff we’d have gone out of business by now.’
Robins has also complained to the OFT about predatory pricing. He
alleges that discounts as high as 95 per cent are being offered to
advertise in the Herald & Post. This he claims is uneconomic and its
purpose is purely to shut his newspaper out of the market.
The OFT is now insisting on a formal undertaking from Aberdeen Journals
but, to Robins’ disgust, has decided not to refer the matter to the
Competition Commission. The OFT is also canvassing opinion and has
placed ads in local newspapers. The deadline for response is 27
If the latest, legally binding, assurance is breached, Robins is
threatening to take civil action in the High Court against his rival.
From next March, the OFT will have new powers to impose penalties of up
to 10 per cent of turnover, but Robins is sceptical that the OFT will
The Independent launched in 1996 as a free weekly in a city dominated by
Aberdeen Journals and its three titles - the morning Press and Journal,
the Evening Express and the Herald & Post, a free weekly. Robins alleges
that his rival’s dominant position is being used to try to take his
title out of the market.
Aberdeen Journals’ managing director Alan Scott declined to comment
while the OFT investigation was continuing.
Meanwhile, both newspaper groups are rumoured to be up for sale.
According to Scotland on Sunday, the owner of the Independent -
ex-Thomson Regional Newspapers’ executive Keith Barlow - is keen to sell
his title, while Northcliffe is rumoured to be keen on a swap deal with
Trinity involving Aberdeen Journals and the Belfast Telegraph.
Media Forum, p12.