Sunday, November 19, 2006

EXCLUSIVE - OFT could probe Newsquest's activities in Sussex

Thanks to an anonymous tipster Newsquestwatch has learned that the activities of Newsquest's Sussex operation, centred on the Brighton Argus, could be the subject of a probe by a competition watchdog.

This document reveals them story of the Lewes Life and Ucksfield Life, founded by businessman Terry Brannigan in 2003 in an area dominated by The Argus and Johnston's Sussex Express. He alleges Newsquest (in particular) acted againt competition law in the following ways;

(a) the cancellation of the intended print slot for the appellant’s publications (the
appellant having entered into an agreement with Newsquest in January 2003
to use Newsquest print facilities);
(b) the launch by Newsquest of a rival weekly free paper, the Uckfield Leader, to
target the circulation of the Uckfield Life;
(c) the offering of advertising space to the appellant’s customers either free or at
excessively low prices in return for an agreement not to advertise with Mr
Brannigan’s titles;
(d) targeting of the appellant’s means of distribution, in particular by pressurising
local newsagents not to stock the Lewes Life or the Uckfield Life; and
(e) attacking and denigrating the appellant’s reputation.
The appellant also alleges an agreement between Newsquest and Johnston not to compete
against each other in the Lewes and Brighton areas respectively.

Mr Brannigan, who was forced into personal bankrupcy by the failure of his titles, made complaints to the Office of Fair Trading at the time and was told that while 'further enquiries were justified' the OFT had 'insufficient resources' to carry them out.

After years of legal letters the OFT announced earlier this year that it would not be investigating Mr Brannigan's case. However, after an appeal to the Competition Appeal Tribunal, the OFT was told to take another look at the case. The OFT came back with

the OFT did not consider that the
complaint was an administrative priority for the OFT. The OFT also stated that the grounds
for suspecting an infringement of the Act were weak; that there was no clear evidence that
either Newsquest or Johnston are dominant in any market or that there were agreements
which could have an appreciable effect upon competition. The OFT took the view that much
of the alleged behaviour can be justified as a vigorous competitive response and was of too
short a duration to pose a threat to serious competition,

But Mr Brannigan appealed again, and the tribunal has given him a further 28 days to prepare his case. It could get interesting.

Now, an important caveat here - this is a long way off getting to court. Even if the OFT is forced to investigate, it doesn't exactly sound keen on the case.

But there is a precedent here. Back in July 2001 Northcliffe's Aberdeen division was hit with a £1.3million fine for predatory pricing and attempting to take the rival Aberdeen Independent out of the market.

And there are examples elsewhere in the Gannett empire as well. Over in the states the parent company is no stranger to every trick in the book to force the competition out of town - as detailed in this book by Richard McCord.

The consequences of a monopoly are dreadful. Poor quality local news, no scrutiny of local authorities, inflated prices for advertisers and low wages for hacks. If - and it is a big if - Newsquest or any other publisher is caught taking part in predatory pricing activities the OFT must throw the book at them.


Anonymous said...

Brannigan's resubmitted appeal to follow OFT guidelines will be accepted by the CAT at a Case Management Conference on 23rd January 2007.
With Newsquest not responding in the timeframe set by the OFT, the CAT will then decide the next stage, likely to be the OFT given a timescale of approximately 28 days to file their defence to the accepted appeal.
The case is then likely to be heard in front of the CAT in March once the defence has been submitted, with the CAT then likely to make a decision that may impact the whole newspaper industry and Newsquest in particular, unless they try to buy their way out 'on the cheap' before then, which is highly unlikely.
Hopefully Newsquest are about to get what they have deserved for many years. Good luck Brannigan from all disgruntled former Newsquest employees.

Anonymous said...

Brannigan's revised appeal has been published on the website of the Competition Appeal Tribunal (
In preperation for the next hearing, dated 23rd January 2007, any parties such as Newsquest now have until 22nd January to intervene.

Anonymous said...

From the Competition Appeals Tribunal website. Sounds positive...

Mr T Brannigan v Office of Fair Trading
Case: 1073/2/1/06

A case management conference has been fixed for 10.30am on 23 January 2007 at
Victoria House, Bloomsbury Place (entrance in Bloomsbury Square), London,
The case management conference will take place in public.
The principal purpose of case management conference is a preparatory one – to plan how the case
should proceed to a full public hearing of the issues and evidence. Amongst the issues discussed are:
− The location of the proceedings
− Whether the proceedings should be consolidated or heard together with other
− Any issues regarding the confidential treatment of any part of the evidence
− The identification of the main issues in the case and the evidence which is likely to be
− The timetable for the case including the timing of the full public hearing and the target
date for the Tribunal’s decision
− Procedural directions sought by the parties, for example for the filing of additional
pleadings and the disclosure of documents
− Any other issue regarding the preparation of the proceedings which can be conveniently
and fairly disposed of.
From time to time, the Tribunal may need to give rulings at case management conferences. In such
circumstances, the Tribunal’s ruling will be made public by placing a transcript on the website.
A copy of any order made by the Tribunal at a case management conference will be placed on the
Please note that diary listings notified on this site are subject to change. If attending Tribunal hearings
or case management conferences please check the website on the date of the scheduled hearing or case
management conference to ensure that the case will be heard on any particular day.

Anonymous said...

The full hearing of Brannigan versus OFT in relation to the Competition Appeals Tribunal trying to force the OFT to look into Brannigan's accusations against Newsquest took place on Monday 14th May 2007.
A full transcript of the hearing can be read on
An outcome decision is now pending.

Anonymous said...

Newsquest Get away with it....

Despite providing witness statements from former Newsquest staff testifying to the illegal conduct of Newsquest (Sussex), the Competition Appeals Tribunal have ruled out Brannigan's appeal against the fact the OFT refused to investigate his claims.
This means that Newsquest will yet again get away with breaking the law, giving a bad example to the industry that any major player can do anything they want without fear of consequences.
This appears to be the end of a battle for justice by Mr Brannigan lasting almost four years. Although the CAT commends Brannigan for applying himself with courtesy and diligence, his evidence now counts for nothing and he becomes another casualty to Newsquest's greed.

Anonymous said...

Newsquest pulled the same 'launch a free spoiler' trick in Andover a couple of years back to see off someone who dared to challenge them - not the first time either.