When I was in Paris in November, I noticed that our hotel (and my usual choice in the 9e) was down the road from Reporters sans Frontières, the group advocating press freedoms and campaigning against illegally jailed journalists. RSF publishes an index of press freedom each year, and it was disturbing, though not surprising, to note that New Zealand had fallen in 2006 (from 12th in 2005 to 19th).
The fall can be attributed to a growing concentration of media in the hands of the few, something that less than ideal economic conditions created by this government has created. Some Kiwi ﬁrms have had to sell out to foreign interests. (If we were so healthy, we’d be doing the acquiring.)
This is important, because it means that misbehaviour by foreign media interests do not make the headlines.
I can’t get the whole story from the Intellectual Property Ofﬁce’s database, but through hearsay, I am told that ACP—what I used to call the Packer Press—registered the Madison trade mark for one of its magazines, even though there was an existing magazine by that name in New Zealand.
I knew Madison was launching in Australia after visiting media buyers in Sydney in 2004, and did not know it had plans to enter New Zealand at that point. After all, there was a nice, A5-sized title called Madison here, independently published. And like a lot of indie publishers, Madison’s hadn’t registered its TM.
Both Madisons wound up competing for a similar market. I had always assumed that ACP, or its parent, PBL, had asked the New Zealand publisher for permission, or bought the name, because while the Kiwi Madison hadn’t registered its TM, it still had a case in the tort of passing off, still on the books here. It was not as if the New Zealand Madison had shut its doors and, through that, relinquished claim to the name.
But the hearsay was that ACP bullied its way to registration, and Madison gave up without a ﬁght, ﬁnding it too hard to battle the large publisher’s lawyers. It renamed itself Stella.
I see from the IPONZ database that there was indeed an opposition to ACP’s registration, though it does not say from whom. But a quick Googling shows nothing, yet somehow I know that if it were two Kiwi ﬁrms doing the battling, it would have made the headlines. The Cooper v. Cooper case says as much. It makes me wonder if it would make any difference if the Australian ﬁrm was, say, an Asian one. Maybe not.
The lesson, even if it is based on hearsay: if you are going to be a Goliath, see if you can be a foreign one, and the mainstream media will leave you alone here. Thus, Danone of France can own Eta, Grifﬁn’s, and Just Juice, and Kiwis will buy those brands as though they were as local as Lyn of Tawa.
If we are going to support publishers, I say we support those who aren’t part of these groups contributing to our slip in the press freedoms’ indices. A free press is still valued in this nation. Posted by Jack Yan, 11:11
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