BT threatened to pull ads after newspaper article, tribunal told

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The Independent Online
BT THREATENED to stop spending "several million pounds each year" in advertising in the Sunday Telegraph following an adverse article about the phone company's senior management, it emerged at an employment tribunal yesterday.

The threat was contained in a letter from BT's head of external relations, Ted Graham, to Neil Bennett, City Editor of the Sunday Telegraph, dated 18 March 1998.

Parts of the letter were read out at Woburn Place Employment Tribunal as part of the case brought by Patrick Weever, former deputy City editor at the Sunday Telegraph, against the paper. Mr Weever is claiming unfair dismissal, and is also accusing Mr Bennett of a "classic Fleet Street knifing".

Mr Weever's counsel, Shirley Bothroyd, read out a letter from BT to Mr Bennett concerning an article Mr Weever had written for the Sunday Telegraph, which questioned the relationship between Sir Peter Bonfield, BT's chief executive, and Sir Iain Vallance, BT's chairman.

Mr Graham wrote that the article had caused intense anger at BT and continued: "I should also point out that BT spends several million pounds each year advertising in the [Sunday] Telegraph; given your apparent vendetta against BT's management, is that advertising spend something which we should continue?"

Mr Weever also accused Mr Bennett of playing into the hands of "PR masters" by accepting exclusive stories in the "Friday night drop" - a practice vigorously opposed by Mr Weever. This involves corporate spin doctors passing exclusive and sometimes price-sensitive information to Sunday newspaper financial journalists in exchange for coverage. This could often be in breach of Stock Exchange and Takeover Panel rules, Mr Weever said.

Mr Weever's counsel told the tribunal on the first day of evidence that the "ferociously ambitious" Mr Bennett conducted a "war of attrition" to oust a "principled journalist of the old school". He claims Mr Bennett undermined his position on the City pages, replacing him with Mary Fagan, leading to his constructive dismissal earlier this year.

The Sunday Telegraph is fighting the claim. The case continues.