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
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
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,
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
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.
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