Home Blogs Diary 2010 10

How to stop free newspapers

12th October 2010

I received this in my inbox the other day:

I've written to both local editor and the publisher of East Kilbride Mail free newspaper requesting them to stop delivering to my door – with no reply. I also have a sticker clearly stating "No free newspapers or junk mail" but it is ignored. What's the next step?

Until early 2008 canceling free newspapers used to be relatively straightforward; a sign saying 'No Free Newspapers' would stop them. Of course, there was the problem that some deliverers ignore such signs, but at least the basic principle was simple enough. But then, in the spring of 2008, the Direct Marketing Association launched an opt-out scheme called Your Choice. Nobody signs up to the Your Choice scheme (if you really want to know, 0.006% of UK households has signed up so far) but it has greatly complicated stopping unaddressed junk mail in general, and free newspapers in particular. Evil tongues say that this might well be exactly what the Direct Marketing Association was hoping to achieve when it set up Your Choice.

The issue? When Your Choice was launched the Direct Marketing Association invented some policies on free newspapers. The Your Choice propaganda pack (PDF) states that registering with the scheme will not stop free newspapers, and that people wanting to stop free newspapers need to write to the publisher of the newspaper. In other words, as far as the Direct Marketing Association is concerned a letterbox sign saying 'No Free Newspapers' is not good enough. Why make stopping unwanted mail easy if you can make it a real pain, right?

To be sure, a letterbox sign saying 'No Free Newspapers' will usually do exactly what it says on the tin. No publisher has a policy of ignoring 'No Free Newspapers' signs, and deliverers usually understand that not everybody wants to receive this particular type of literature. The Direct Marketing Association's policy is largely irrelevant. Nevertheless, it is worth stressing the point that the Direct Marketing Association could have ruled that people not wanting to receive free newspapers can either write to the publisher of the paper or put a sign on the door saying 'No Free Newspapers'. That they choose to make stopping free newspapers more complicated than it needs to be tells you something about how much the organisation cares about people.

The Direct Marketing Association's policy on free newspapers is relevant when your 'No Free Newspapers' sign is being ignored. If the publisher of the paper happens to be a member of the Direct Marketing Association (which you can check here) you can't put in a complaint until you have written to the publisher and have allowed them up to twelve weeks to make the necessary arrangements. Another fine example of how self-regulation by the junk mail industry fails people not interested in junk mail. How can they claim with dry eyes that it takes that long to process such a simple request? How much easier things would be if only the Direct Marketing Association would state in its Code of Practice that members have to respect signs saying 'No Free Newspapers'!

Still, if the publisher is a member of the Direct Marketing Association and ignores your written request you would have the right to complaint to the Direct Marketing Association. To a large extend you have this right in theory only. Few people, if any, will be able and willing to cope which such a bureaucratic maze. But at least it could be argued you have a choice.

If the publisher is not a member of the Direct Marketing Association you have no right to exercise 'Your Choice'. If your 'No Free Newspapers' sticker is ignored you can try writing to the publisher, but if the publisher is too busy writing sponsored features and inserting junk mail in its newspapers you're buggered.

Back then to the East Kilbride Mail. Here we got exactly this scenario; the publisher ignores 'No Free Newspapers' signs and doesn't respond to written requests. The publisher, Forth Independent Newspapers Ltd, is not a member of the Direct Marketing Association. What to do?

I did ask the Direct Marketing Association this question and, unexpectedly, after a couple of tries, got a response from the organisation's 'Preference Services Co-ordinator':

We would usually suggest that you contact the company concerned directly. However, since they are ignoring written requests I would suggest that you contact:

The Information Commissioners Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

T: 01625 545745
E: mail@ico.gsi.gov.uk

They may be able to offer further advice.

Well… no! The Information Commissioner's Office enforces the Data Protection Act and can force junk mailers to take your personal details off junk mail databases – but they've got nothing whatsoever to do with free newspapers. Just to be sure I wasn't going mad I did check this with the Information Commissioner's Office. They told me that:

In order to fall under the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) the mailing received must be addressed to an individual. I am afraid free newspapers are not targeted at individuals and as such are not covered by the DPA.

So there you are – you're buggered.

Last updated: 
12th October 2010