Heseltine unlikely to move OFT

By Alyson Fixter

A dismissive Office of Fair Trading has indicated that a letter from
Lord Heseltine expressing his frustration over the magazine
distribution row is unlikely to change their thinking on the issue.

The Tory peer and publisher wrote to the OFT last week criticising
the industry watchdog’s “apparent failure to acknowledge the potential
damage to the industry from its proposed recommendations”.

He also suggested the OFT had failed to properly examine the “large volume of painstaking research” submitted by publishers.

The
OFT is due to give its opinion on the future of magazine distribution
at the end of the month, and is expected to say that current
arrangements are breaking European competition law.

Publishers,
magazine wholesalers and newsagents claim the opinion would be
devastating to the industry, and could result in more power being
handed over to the supermarkets, while newsagents and publishers go out
of business.

Lord Heseltine, who owns Haymarket, has become a
high-profile advocate of the publishing industry’s stance, alongside GQ
editor Dylan Jones and, more recently, London mayor Ken Livingstone.

But
a spokeswoman for the OFT said: “Lord Heseltine wrote us a long letter
and obviously we’re not going to answer him point for point at this
stage, as most of the points he covered are the issues that have
already been covered in our SUBSCRIPTIONS: 01858 438872 examination of
the agreements.

“[The publishing industry] asked us for our
opinion and we are working towards that. It would be pointless at this
stage to engage in back and forth, it would be a diversion of resources.

“The
opinion that we issue will be out soon and we have responded to Lord
Heseltine in pretty much those terms. He says a number of things about
the investigation and the team that we’re not prepared to respond to.”

The
office of the mayor of London confirmed that Livingstone had indeed
contacted Lord Heseltine over the issue, concerned about the impact the
opinion could have on the diversity of titles available in London.
However, it is not clear whether Livingstone intends to make a public
statement.

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