The NFRN has called on the new chairman of the Press Distribution Forum to urgently intervene following Johnston Press’ decision to move the distribution of its titles in Northern Ireland from Newspread to EM News from next Monday (January 23).

Since hearing of the move, the NFRN has been seeking clarification over any impact the change will have on independent newsagents, but both news wholesalers have so far refused to confirm whether there will be any changes to carriage charges.

NFRN Chief Executive Paul  Baxter said: “Since a letter was sent from EM News to its retail customers to advise that it is to handle 23 titles, which include The Newsletter and the i, the silence from both publisher and affected wholesalers has been deafening.

“This move represents significant change, yet neither wholesaler has given retailers or the NFRN any clear indication or reassurance as to whether current carriage charges will be reviewed or not but this cannot be left to chance.

“We have repeatedly warned that carriage charges are too high, putting immense pressure on the profitability of those retailers who continue to support the news category.  Already we are hearing that some have now taken the momentous decision to close their news accounts as they can no longer afford these dual charges.”

Announcing the appointment of Frank Straetmans as its new chairman, the PDF said that discussions with the NFRN and other trade bodies over the issues facing the industry continue to make progress.

Mr Baxter continued: “If Mr Straetmans really wants to make his mark and demonstrate that the PDF really is in tune with the true needs and concerns of news retailers he must intervene at the earliest opportunity and obtain an assurance from EM News that there will be no increase in carriage charge and, just as importantly, that there is a seamless transfer of supplies.”

In the past both wholesalers have caused uproar with EM News introducing a £15 per week carriage surcharge after winning the contract to distribute News UK titles, while Newspread imposed ludicrous increases in carriage charges by as much as 33 per cent when it took over the distribution of a number of titles in 2012.

The NFRN is also calling for the PDF to challenge the body that represents news wholesalers – the ANMW – over its position on carriage charges and contract changes.

Mr Baxter said: “The ANMW is listed as one of the member associations of the PDF. By its own admission, the PDF says it exists ‘to provide a self regulated forum for associations and companies involved in the supply and distribution of newspapers and magazines to ensure the continuation of a diverse and plural press with its widespread availability to retailers and consumers’.  With some retailers in Northern Ireland looking to stop stocking newspapers, this widespread availability is threatened. We would be interested in hearing what the ANMW does to ensure fair play among its members and if such a policy does not exist, to discover why not and what the PDF will be doing to overcome this.”

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