Last Tuesday, the Fin Review devoted an editorial to a strong
attack on an industry it described as an “anachronistic relic” which
hangs on to “an outdated notion that they have a special place in the
community and must be protected.” The industry, concluded the Fin, “should be exposed to the same competitive pressures as other retailers.”

Which industry were they talking about? The highly-protected, government-favoured industry which sells the AFR every day – newsagents. And to its credit, the Fin
acknowledged its close relationship with newsagents, but insisted that
“we can’t make an exception to our consistent advocacy of free-market
competition.”

A few days later, the Fin Review made more
comments about newsagents – except they weren’t published in the paper.
They were contained in this letter, sent by the national circulation
manager of Fairfax Business Media, Bob Fairless, to the newsagents’
industry body, the Australian Newsagents’ Federation:

With reference to the piece that appeared in the Financial Review
on Tuesday and the ANF response we are naturally concerned that you
might see this as a business decision on our part, and want to assure
you that it is not.

The AFR – and Fairfax generally –
places a very high value on the contribution of newsagents to the
business of newspaper publishing. Unfortunately, from time to time, the
critical editorial role that is central to our business creates tension
with our business partners.

It is the case that the AFR
has historically been a strong advocate of competition and open market
access and in taking that position it has been criticial of market
limiting attitudes and behaviours.

This position is one that
finds strong support from our readers – our mutual customers. We
believe that it is an important characteristic of our role.

Again
I want to assure you and your members that I and Michael Gill, as the
principal manager of this business, place a very high
priority on support of newsagent needs and marketing success.

And I apologise for any personal slight that the newspaper’s policy position might have occasioned.

CRIKEY: The Fin Review
was right to write its fearless editorial and stand by its principles –
and wrong to write a grovelling letter apologising for its stand. If it
didn’t have the guts to stand by its position, it shouldn’t have taken
it in the first place.