THE IRISH MAIL on Sunday’s use of a masthead bearing the name of the now-defunct Sunday Tribune on an issue of its newspaper last February was described as a “marketing stunt” by the paper’s managing director in court today.
Paul Henderson, MD of Associated Newspapers Ireland (ANI) which publishes the IMoS, told the District Court in Dublin that there was “no dark heart” in its use of a controversial “wraparound” on its 6 February 2011 issue which attempted to entice people to read the newspaper in light of the demise of the Sunday Tribune which went into receivership days earlier.
The National Consumer Agency (NCA) has taken ANI to court over the wraparound alleging that the Irish Mail on Sunday broke the Consumer Protection Act 2007 by 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.
It follows a number of complaints that were made to the NCA and an investigation that followed.
The last edition of the Sunday Tribune was published on 30 January of this year. It was put into receivership on the 1 February and in the days that followed it was announced that it would not be printed again until a buyer was found. In the event no buyer was found for the paper.
“Some confusion and shock”
On 6 February, the Irish Mail on Sunday published 26,000 copies of its newspaper with a wraparound that featured a version of the Sunday Tribune masthead. The paper did not seek the advice or consent of the Sunday Tribune or its then editor Noirín Hegarty prior to publication.
Giving evidence Hegarty, the paper’s editor for six years prior to its closure, outlined how she had received a text from her then assistant editor Ger Siggins on the morning of 6 February in which she was notified of the existence of the special edition of the Irish Daily Mail.
She visited her local newsagent where she said she found a paper that “for all intents and purposes” looked like the Sunday Tribune and later described how she issued a statement as there was “some confusion and shock” over the wraparound. Hegarty told the court that in her six years as editor there had been no collaboration with the Mail and noted that it was a “competing newspaper in what was a very competitive market”.
Cross-examined by Neil Steen SC, on behalf of ANI, Hegarty acknowledged that the masthead on the special edition of the Irish Mail on Sunday was “not the masthead of the Sunday Tribune” but said it was similar to the Sunday Tribune’s masthead.
As part of the prosecution’s evidence, the court heard from a number of consumers who had complained to the NCA. A number of them said they felt “duped” into believing that they had bought the Sunday Tribune when in fact it was the Irish Mail on Sunday. One said he felt the paper was trying to “pull a fast one on me”.
“I felt I was duped”
Brian O’Neill, with an address at Lansdowne Crescent in Dublin 4, said he thought he was helping out the Sunday Tribune by buying what he thought was the final edition of the paper. When he discovered that it was the Mail on Sunday, he told the court: “I felt I was duped” before adding that he was “furious” over it.
Appearing for the defence, Associated Newspapers Ireland’s MD Paul Henderson told the court that it was “the final nail in the coffin” once the receiver at the Sunday Tribune said that paper would not be publishing any edition on the Sunday in question. He said that such a move meant readers were lost “instantly”.
He said the demise of the Tribune had offered a “commercial opportunity” to his newspaper and said it was his decision to use a “wraparound” on the Irish Mail on Sunday that coming weekend. He said it was “obvious” that it would have to have a reference to the Sunday Tribune.
Henderson said the wraparound was decided on Friday and that it was run past the paper’s in-house legal team. The paper was distributed to area of the east coast where it was felt the majority of Sunday Tribune readers were based, Henderson said.
He described it as a “marketing stunt” and insisted there was “no dark heart in the process” of deciding the content of the wraparound. “We didn’t close the Sunday Tribune down,” he added. Henderson also said there had been “half-a-dozen complaints” to the newspaper’s offices about the wraparound.
During cross examination by the prosecuting barrister, Jonathan Kilfeather SC, Henderson insisted that the paper did not set out to mislead consumers saying it was a wrap for marketing purposes and was designed to attract readers with the words the Sunday Tribune. He said it was “designed to attract readers”.
Also giving evidence, the Irish Mail on Sunday’s editor Sebastian Hamilton praised the Sunday Tribune as having had some “fantastic journalists” and said it was “the only other fearless paper in Ireland”.
He said there was “a lot of sadness” in his newsroom upon hearing news of the Tribune’s demise. His evidence is to continue in Dublin District Court tomorrow morning when the case continues.