Watchdog may prosecute 'Mail'

 

The national consumer watchdog is considering a prosecution after a Sunday newspaper published an edition yesterday mimicking the front page of its rival, the Sunday Tribune.

A spokeswoman for the National Consumer Agency confirmed it was considering prosecuting the Irish Mail on Sunday for a breach of the Consumer Protection Act.

There was strong criticism of the newspaper yesterday for publishing an edition yesterday with a front page masthead and layout which replicated those of its rival, the Sunday Tribune.

The consumer agency said today it would not be making any further comment on the issue. The Consumer Protection Act governs a number of areas such as misleading and unfair commercial practices.

The Sunday Tribune is not to publish for the next few weeks following the appointment of a receiver last week. The receiver is seeking a buyer for the newspaper.

Yesterday, the Mail published about 25,000 copies of a special edition with the Sunday Tribune-style front page.

The move was criticised by Sunday Tribune editor Nóirín Hegarty and by the National Union of Journalists (NUJ). The union and the Sunday Tribune were among those who lodged complaints this morning against the Mail on Sunday.

Editor of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Sebastian Hamilton, has defended the publication, however.

Hegarty said yesterday she was “appalled and shocked” that another newspaper would stoop so low to plagiarise a front-page lookalike of the Sunday Tribune with the naked ambition of gaining extra circulation. She described it as a "shameless act of commercial vandalism".

The act had shown that the other paper would "leave no stone unturned in the race to the bottom".

She said the Sunday Tribune management and staff as well as the receiver, Jim Luby, were working flat out in the hope of keeping afloat the newspaper, which employs 43 people.

Irish secretary of the National Union of Journalists, Séamus Dooley, described the move as “crass and cynical”.

Mr Dooley claimed the special edition was distributed to newsagents with a request that it be displayed on newsstands in the place normally occupied by the Sunday Tribune.

He said the action was a clear breach of Irish and European consumer legislation, since it was "a deliberate attempt to mislead consumers".

"A number of people have contacted the NUJ saying they had purchased the fake 'Tribune' as a gesture of support, not realising it was actually the Irish Mail on Sunday," Mr Dooley said.

"This was a cynical marketing exercise and represents a new low in Irish journalism. The defence offered by the Mail on Sunday is disingenuous. Even in a fiercely competitive market there must be respect for basic standards of decency."

The defence offered by the company - the fact that the Irish Mail on Sunday is produced in Ireland by journalists based in Ireland, is irrelevant. There is no justification for the departure from acceptable editorial and journalistic standards.

Hamilton said the Mail group employed 161 staff in Ireland – almost four times as many as the Sunday Tribune. He said his newspaper was written in Ireland, edited in Ireland and printed and produced in Ireland. He said that it had a track record of powerful investigations.

“We want to protect those 161 Irish jobs by persuading as many Tribune readers as possible to keep buying newspapers. If today’s marketing exercise encourages more people to buy a paper today, surely that is something we should encourage.

“The Tribune was shut down by its owners, who also own the Sunday Independent. We want to offer Tribune readers a genuine alternative.”