Opinion: Ken has the power in freesheet battle

London is facing its biggest newspaper battle since the Evening Standard defeated Robert Maxwell's upstart London Daily News in 1987. So what? Media wars are nothing new.

Swap Maxwell for Rupert Murdoch and even the battle lines are the same. This time round, however, who wins or loses will have little to do with Londoners, or even with advertisers, but with regional government.

Murdoch's thelondonpaper is to launch next Monday (4 September) while Associated's London Lite is set to compete for the same distribution channels.

Through Transport for London, Mayor Ken Livingstone controls exactly where and when the Metro is given out every morning on the Tube, and has now created a new afternoon distribution slot, too - the tender process for which will take many months.

This not only threatens Metro and the Standard (both published by Associated), but gives Ken huge influence over anyone trying to launch another London paper, be it Murdoch, Richard Desmond, or The Guardian.

This is, truly, a masterstroke - create an asset worth millions out of space you already own and, at the same time, get back at the paper that has been carping at you since the day you were elected. 

A similar process has been launched by Network Rail to cover distribution in railway stations, over which, in London, Ken will also have a significant influence in future.

For the PR sector, it means channels for reaching opinion formers and wider audiences are suddenly and dramatically expanding. But it also means regional government becoming, in effect, a media regulator. So who will set the regulatory framework and who will regulate the regulator?

As for content, what will Ken's distribution contract say about that? Will the daily diet of celebrity pap increase? Or will Ken's influence finally have the effect of seeing sustained, in-depth coverage of the issues that really matter to Londoners?

Luke Blair is a director of London Communications Agency. He is a formerEvening Standard journalist and former head of comms at TfL

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