Commentary: There's no hiding from Sir Bryan

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The Independent Online
Sir Bryan Carsberg has not wasted any time since taking over as Director-General of Fair Trading in June. Within a month he launched an investigation into compact discs. Now he has referred newspaper distributors to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

WH Smith must be wondering if Sir Bryan has got something against the company. As a vendor of compact discs and a distributor of newspapers it stands to lose out from two of his early decisions. If he turns his mind next to the Net Book Agreement, that would make for a third.

Sir Bryan's interests are, however, far more wide-ranging than WH Smith's. He won his spurs as consumers' champion when at Oftel and has every intention of holding on to them at the Office of Fair Trading.

Welcome though his energetic approach is, his decision on newspapers could be worrying for those who like certainty and clarity in competition regulation. The OFT has reviewed newspaper distribution twice before, and the MMC has investigated it once. But now, following Sir Bryan's appointment, it has not just revisited the subject but reversed its previous decision. What else will the OFT revisit?

Both the compact disc and newspaper decisions were prompted partly by letters from MPs. Sir Bryan is not, however, reliant on MPS or even on complainants in general. He has declared his intention to go out looking for trouble. This means he will investigate sectors or industries where profits are high enough to smack of cartels. There is no hiding from Sir Bryan, not even behind past OFT investigations.

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