THE EDITOR OF the Irish Mail on Sunday has told a court he would not have published the paper’s controversial wraparound cover if he thought it would deceive consumers.
Sebastian Hamilton was giving evidence at Dublin District Court today where the National Consumer Agency (NCA) is pursuing legal action against the publishers of the Irish Mail on Sunday, Associated Newspapers Ireland (ANI). The NCA claims that the wraparound broke the Consumer Protection Act 2007 in attempting to attract readers by deliberately deceiving or misleading the consumer and by promoting its own product in a way that would deceive or mislead the consumer.
Yesterday the court heard from the former editor of the Sunday Tribune, Noirín Hegarty, who told the court the wraparound on the 6 February issue of the Irish Mail on Sunday looked “for all intents and purposes” like the Tribune. A number of consumers told the court they felt they were “duped” into buying the paper. ANI Managing Director Paul Henderson said it was a “marketing stunt” and that there was no ill-will intended by the IMoS in publishing the wraparound.
Continuing to give evidence to the court today, the paper’s editor Sebastian Hamilton said there had been a number of discussions about what the paper could do to attract Sunday Tribune readers in the lead up the publication that week. He told the court there had been previous examples of a “personalised advertisement” such as when the paper produced a special Shamrock Rovers edition with a similar wraparound.
‘It all started from the position there is no Sunday Tribune’
He said it had been assumed from the start that the Sunday Tribune wouldn’t be printed. “It all started from the position (that) there is no Sunday Tribune,” he told the court and insisted there was “no doubt it was incredibly widely-known” there would be no issue of the Tribune that weekend of 6 February.
He described the readership of the Sunday Tribune as a “literate, aware and sophisticated bunch of consumers” who would have known that the paper was not going to publish that weekend.
Hamilton insisted “we have a moral newspaper” and said that he was “very sorry” to the witnesses who told the court yesterday they felt they had been duped by the the wraparound. He argued that the five witnesses and two people who wrote to him complaining, constituted a “microscopic number of people” out of the 9,000 who bought the special edition of the paper with the wraparound.
Under cross-examination by Jonathan Kilfeather SC, for the NCA, Hamilton insisted that he “wasn’t remotely surprised” that there had been complaints by members of Independent Newspapers and Media (INM), which had a share in the Tribune, or former Downing Street communications chief Alastair Campbell, who was critical in media interviews, but said it was surprising to hear of the NCA’s investigation on the night the paper was published.
“If I thought it could have deceived I wouldn’t have done it,” he told the court.
He described the 6 February issue of his paper as a “special edition of the Irish Mail on Sunday targeted at Sunday Tribune readers.”
The Irish Mail on Sunday’s in-house lawyer Michael Kealey also gave evidence to the court insisting that it was well-known that the Sunday Tribune would not be published that weekend as there was an “enormous amount of publicity” about the fact.
Describing the advice he gave regarding the Irish Mail on Sunday’s version of the Sunday Tribune masthead, he told the court he advised the paper to remove a red banner line from under the paper’s title and replace it with a blue line. The Sunday Tribune masthead contained a red banner line under its title when it was in publication.
It was also pointed out in court that the Sunday Tribune masthead had the word ‘Sunday’ smaller than ‘Tribune’ but this was not the case on the masthead used on the Mail on Sunday wraparound. The court also heard that the font used in the Mail on Sunday version was “its own licensed font” and not that used in the Sunday Tribune’s own masthead.
Under cross-examination Kealey told the court that he had kept no written evidence of the inquiries made of him and of the advice he gave to the Mail on Sunday regarding the wraparound. He said this was “not at all unusual” and later added that he was “surprised” by the NCA’s courts summonses.
Judge Conal Gibbons will hear closing arguments in the case tomorrow.