Diary of a dispute: Case and coverage closed

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

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07 – 01 -2016

In reviewing The Moodie Report’s earlier coverage of the hugely controversial dispute between Duty Free Americas (DFA) and The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), which reached its end game in late December, I came across a piece I wrote in The Moodie e-Zine on the matter.

In the article I not only reviewed the facts of the matter but also the pressures and sensitivities a responsible journalist faces with such stories. It is the latter I will focus on in this Blog as I believe the original piece captures precisely my and The Moodie Report’s particular journalistic philosophy. In that sense then, I believe it salient to reproduce sections of the feature (in italics) below.

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Sometimes in publishing there are stories you’d rather not have to write. No matter how neutral your stance and fair your treatment, you know that the subject matter is controversial, perhaps painful to one or more parties.

Choosing to publish in such circumstances can even test the relationship you have with those parties – an important consideration in business-to-business media. Such was the case last Friday when I picked up a snippet on newswire Bloomberg that Duty Free Americas (DFA) had filed a lawsuit against The Estée Lauder Companies (ELC), alleging anti-competitive practices.

As is well known in the industry, the powerful US beauty house has not been supplying the Falic family-owned DFA for several years: a fact that (linked to other allegations, see below) prompted the retailer to contend in its filing to the South Florida District Court that Lauder had been responsible for “a campaign of anti-competitive and tortious activity to drive DFA out of business”.

This was strong stuff. Extraordinary in fact. The biggest travel retailer in the US (counting airport and border stores) suing the country’s biggest beauty house. Bloomberg only had a fragment of the story, and its report largely misconstrued the real thrust of the DFA complaint.

But the report meant that this dispute was now in the public domain. As such, I believed we had an absolute obligation to follow up the story, find out the salient facts and publish those findings accordingly.

That sounds simple. It isn’t. In such circumstances both parties will often not only decline to comment but will actively seek to dissuade you from reporting it. Pressure from many angles can be, and often is, brought to bear. Journalism, especially in the UK, has an unfortunate (and in the tabloid sector often justified) reputation for delighting in the sensational.

We take no such delight. In such stories immense care and sensitivity is required. But, equally, we are failing in our responsibilities if we don’t cover such an important development. I should note that neither DFA nor ELC requested us not to report the news.

We went to both parties for comment though predictably the response was cautious. Duty Free Americas told The Moodie Report: “We do not intend to litigate the case in the press. As alleged, ELC’s anti-competitive conduct harms consumers and airport authorities. Its conduct has been vindictive and designed to stifle competition generally and DFA in particular. We look forward to presenting our claims to the court.”

A spokesperson for ELC told The Moodie Report that the company did not wish to comment. The 32-page claim makes many allegations against Lauder and, from time to time, against other retailers in the business which DFA labels as “co-conspirators”.

We don’t intend to go into the rights or wrongs of those claims here – this is heavy duty stuff, and it’s up to the courts to decide the merits of DFA’s argument. So we’ll simply try to sum up the key aspects of a case that is being followed with intense interest by other retailers, airport companies and ELC’s fellow brands.

And that is indeed what we did for over three years in a long-running story that has reached resolution but, alas, no rapprochement.  Feelings continue to run high on both sides but the case, and our coverage, is closed. I like to think we did our job well and I applaud both parties for allowing us to do it.

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