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 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.
THE FLYNN FILE
1975 ICI, Australia, engineer
1979 ICI, Australia,
1980 ICI, Hong Kong,
1982 ICI, Western Australia,
1985 Ibis, management
1987 Davies Brothers,
1990 News Limited Suburban
1994 News International,
director and general
1995 News International,