PROFILE: Anthony Rentoul, Newspaper Licensing Agency; Enforcing the licence to bill

Affable, smiling and polite, Anthony Rentoul, new chief executive of the Newspaper Licensing Agency, seems more like Mr Chips than a hate-figure.

Affable, smiling and polite, Anthony Rentoul, new chief executive of the

Newspaper Licensing Agency, seems more like Mr Chips than a hate-figure.



Yet Rentoul, along with his NLA colleagues, has stirred up almost

unheard-of opprobrium among hundreds of normally demure public servants

and PR people. At a recent IPR debate, NLA-imposed charges for copying

press cuttings were described as ‘legitimised racketeering’ by one angry

PR man.



Rentoul expresses exasperation at the negative reaction. ‘We are

surprised that the PR industry is effectively saying ‘we’ve been

breaking the law for some time and we’d like to carry on doing so with

impunity.’’



In particular, Rentoul has taken exception to a circular on the NLA

debate sent out by PRCA director Chris McDowall which he deems

‘misleading’ and the comments made by Hackney Council assistant chief

executive Lorraine Langham at the IPR meeting.



At that debate Langham said: ‘Every penny spent on the NLA is a penny

not spent on public services: not just by local government, but also by

the ambulance, fire, police and health services.’



Rentoul responds by posing the rhetorical question, does she think

newspapers should be free for local authorities? Then he adds: ‘If I

lived in Hackney and was paying council tax I might not be entirely

happy knowing the council has six PR officers.’



Rentoul was the driving force behind the NLA’s creation. It was he who

first suggested setting up an agency to bring in revenue from

organisations reproducing newspaper articles to his predecessor as NLA

chief executive, Andrew Hughes, Financial Times commercial director,

electronic publishing.



And, committed to seeing the NLA take off, he became its non-executive

chairman while still Telegraph Publishing’s secretary.



By the end of the year the Newspaper Licensing Agency will have issued

over 1,000 licences at an average cost of about pounds 1,000 each.



In short, the NLA is already bringing in welcome extra revenue for its

sponsors (all the national newspaper owners, with the exception of News

International).



Despite the wrath of the PR and public sector worlds, Rentoul claims

many companies have reacted favourably to the formation of the NLA

because ‘professionals in the information world were breaking the law

every day and felt uncomfortable about it’.



Hughes describes Rentoul as a ‘character’ with the energy of an 18-year-

old. A person always prepared to say what he thinks, who ‘can’t

understand why everybody else can’t speak Latin.’ Len Sanderson,

managing director Telegraph Sales, remembers Rentoul for his straight

talking which sometimes made him appear ‘quite difficult’ although he

had a ‘heart of gold’.



‘He would talk in exactly the same way to Conrad Black as he would to a

junior in the office,’ says Sanderson. ‘There were no frills, no side to

him. I get the impression that he’d talk to the Queen in the same way as

he’d talk to her footman if he met them.’



Hughes also mentions Rentoul’s office at the Telegraph - which was

adorned by, of all things, a fibreglass statue of Quasimodo.



But such quirks, coupled with an easy affability, should not mislead

anyone into thinking he is a soft touch. Rentoul trained as a solicitor

before embarking on his career in finance and the media, and he still

maintains the ruthless streak that is the mark of a good lawyer.



One senses that nothing would give him greater pleasure than to bring an

action on behalf of the NLA against a recalcitrant PR consultancy. ‘I

suppose the iron fist would have to be removed from the velvet glove,’

he says, smiling yet again.



This time there is no mistaking the seriousness of his intent.



HIGHLIGHTS



1968 Joins NatWest group to become head of syndicated loans

1982 Secretary, Trident Television

1985 Secretary, Telegraph Publishing

1996 Chief executive, the Newspaper Licensing Agency



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