HEADLINER: Ex-explosives expert tackles Fleet Street’s circulations war - Douglas Flynn claims to be cleaning up the UK press

News International this week published a paper called the ’ABC: Restoring a Credible Trading Currency’, which is, according to the company’s managing director, Douglas Flynn, part of its campaign to reform the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

News International this week published a paper called the ’ABC:

Restoring a Credible Trading Currency’, which is, according to the

company’s managing director, Douglas Flynn, part of its campaign to

reform the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The document, which calls for a number of changes to the ABC on issues

of lesser rate and bulk sales, tells a tale of abuse at the heart of the

British newspaper industry. The story has its villains and, of course,

its heroes, represented by News International which, the document

claims, is fighting to clean up the industry.

Leading the ’good guys’ is Doug Flynn who, in a previous life, worked in

the world of explosives for ICI in Australia and South East Asia. It

sounds like a perfect training ground for the tough world of


’There is a lot of fudging going on around the edges to prop up falling

circulation,’ Flynn explains. ’The truth is being obscured. The

situation with the Telegraph is not unique. There are others who are

similarly guilty, such as the Mirror Group with its massive bulk


Flynn is from Australia and has been in the UK for three years. He

arrived from Sydney, where he ran News Limited Suburban Newspapers, a

chain of 80 free newspapers. Although he says he will be in the UK for

some time, he knows that the telephone call putting him on a plane to

New York or Los Angeles, or some other part of News Corporation’s

empire, could come at any time.

For the moment, though, his feet are firmly grounded at News

International headquarters. The ABC document is the latest round in the

circulation war between News International and its rivals.

News International has fought a long and public campaign which has, at

times, employed provocative trade press ads against Mirror Group over

the issue of bulk sales. It is at loggerheads with the Telegraph Group

over subscription sales, a situation that came to the High Court last


News International wants the Telegraph to reveal its discounted

subscription sale figure, which is included in the headline sales

figure. News International complained to the ABC, asking it to rule on

the matter, and the Telegraph issued legal proceedings to stop the ABC


But Flynn says that, as much as anyone else, the advertisers have a

right to know how many of the Telegraph’s headline sales are actually

made up of lesser rate subscription sales.

’The advertisers deserve to know. We have been trying to stop the ABC

fiddle. We have consistently tried to do that,’ he says.

Jeremy Deedes, the managing director of the Telegraph Group interviewed

on these pages last week, claimed the only reason why News International

wants to force the issue is to find out how well the Telegraph’s

targeted subscription programme is performing.

Flynn laughs at this. He already knows, he says, and he maintains that

News International is engaged in the campaign for the good of the


However, many find News International’s claimed altruism hard to


Flynn can understand this sentiment. ’Are we entirely without sin?


But is the direction we are applying correct? The answer is yes.’

Critics point to the Times’s 10p Monday sale, which looks like a classic

lesser-rate. ’That is not a con or a cheat. What is the full price of

the Times on Monday? It is 10p. I am surprised it is even a question,’

he says.

He may be surprised, but others are not. To many it appears that while

News International is keen to follow the rules, it is interested in

following rules that are to its liking. Flynn denies such a charge and

describes the issue with the Telegraph as a storm in a tea-cup, part of

a wider debate about reforming the ABC.

Overall, Flynn says, the incident is merely another example of the

highly competitive nature of the British press, a side of the business

that he admits to enjoying hugely.

’This is a fantastic market to be in. It is brutally competitive and an

exciting place to operate. I think the competitiveness of this market

drives great journalism, great marketing and a highly efficient

business. The only way to be successful is to continue to compete

vigorously,’ he says.


1975          ICI, Australia, engineer

1979          ICI, Australia,

              marketing manager

1980          ICI, Hong Kong,

              regional manager

1982          ICI, Western Australia,

              state manager

1985          Ibis, management


1987          Davies Brothers,

              managing director

1990          News Limited Suburban


              managing director

1994          News International,

              deputy managing

              director and general


1995          News International,

              managing director