Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Leahy Jokes despite Steely Warning

Magazine article Marketing

Raymond Snoddy on Media: Leahy Jokes despite Steely Warning

Article excerpt

When I received my invitation to The Newspaper Society's annual lunch and saw that the speaker was Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive of Tesco and one of the UK's great retailers, I knew that I had to attend.

The event attracts the great and good of the regional newspaper industry, including Lord Rothermere, chairman of Daily Mail owner DMGT, and Roger Parry, chairman of Johnston Press, but it was Leahy's keynote appearance that was the most interesting and topical for members of the media.

The chief executive of Tesco is in the midst of a few lawsuits at the moment, including a writ for malicious falsehood against Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian and libel actions against a Thai MP and a journalist critical of Tesco's expansion in the country, in two multimillion-pound suits that have made front page news in journalist's weekly Press Gazette.

Meanwhile, an open letter by famous authors, written to Leahy and published in The Times, criticised the 'chilling' effect on free speech of Tesco's 'disproportionate' action in Thailand.

I wondered what Sir Terry would say about all that, shortly before finding myself in his path and being introduced. Should I say, 'Good Morning, Sir Terry,' like a contestant on The Apprentice, or 'I meant to bring along the front page of the Press Gazette and hold it up'? I plumped for the latter.

'If you're a journalist, you should check your facts,' was the firm response. In Thailand, Sir Terry explained, you have to issue multimillion-pound lawsuits to get the attention of judges. 'All we want is a simple apology,' he said. Fair enough.

With that, the impromptu audience was over before I had the chance to inquire about the precise legal methods deployed to get the attention of Rusbridger, and whether it might have been wiser to use the Press Complaints Commission rather than make a claim of malicious falsehood - in which case, perhaps Carolyn McCall, chief executive of the Guardian Media Group, might not have had to resign as a non-executive director of Tesco due to a conflict of interests.

In Leahy's speech to an audience of newspaper people, the only reference to any of this was camouflaged with a joke in a single, elliptical opening paragraph.

'After recent stories about Tesco and the media, you may have wondered if I would send my lawyer instead,' he said. …

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