Journal publisher Reed Elsevier pulls out of organizing arms fairs

Anti-arms trade campaigners and writers at Reed Elsevier”s scientific journals today welcomed the publisher”s move to pull out from organising defence shows.

Reed said earlier it would sever its ties to arms fairs, bowing to pressure which included complaints from customers, shareholders and academics writing for its major titles.

The owner of trade and specialist publications such as Farmers Weekly and New Scientist had faced a multi-year campaign over its involvement in five defence shows, including one in London.

It now plans to pull out of the industry by the end of this year.

“Our defence shows are quality businesses which have performed well in recent years,” said chief executive Sir Crispin Davis.

“Nonetheless, it has become increasingly clear that growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defence exhibitions business.

“We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defence shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier”s position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content.”

The Campaign Against Arms Trade, which has been organising weekly vigils outside Reed”s London headquarters, said the move put an end to the incompatibility of Reed”s involvement in the arms trade and its position as the number one publisher of medical and science journals.

“The decision shows that the arms trade is an abhorrent activity and that it has no place within a reputable business,” it said in a statement.

Reed had drawn particular criticism over its defence links from its flagship title The Lancet. The medical journal”s staff struggled to reconcile ties to the arms trade with a publication often covering the impact of war.

Editors of the 184-year-old journal had publicly voiced concerns about damage to its reputation and faced difficulty recruiting academic contributors who objected to Reed”s involvement in arms fairs. The Lancet issued a statement today saying: “The decision by Reed Elsevier to withdraw from military exhibitions will help us to build strong partnerships, which are so essential to our future.”

A host of internationally renowned writers including J.M. Coetzee, Ian McEwan and Arabella Weir, joined the campaign last year, in a public letter to coincide with the Reed-organised London Book Fair.

The authors said they were appalled their trade should be “commercially connected to one which exacerbates insecurity and repression” and they singled out the London fair.

“Military buyers were invited from some of the world”s most violent and repressive regimes,” they wrote. “At DSEi more than one company was found openly (and illegally) advertising torture equipment.”

Earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust sold its £2m stake in Reed because of concerns the publishing firm was stepping up its involvement in arms fairs despite the charity”s three-year campaign to make Reed break ties to the trade.

Describing the trade as “deeply unethical and irredeemably corrupt”, the trust slammed the arms fairs organised by Reed subsidiaries, which include Defence Systems and Equipment International (DSEi), held every two years in London and organised in association with the UK Ministry of Defence.

FTSE 100-listed Reed said today that defence shows accounted for less than 1% of group annual turnover. It said plans to pull out of the sector by the end of the year were subject to honouring its obligations to partners and customers and that September”s DSEi fair at London”s Excel centre would go ahead as planned. After 2007 the shows will not cease altogether. Reed will sell them on.

Reed had previously maintained it viewed the defence industry as “necessary to the preservation of freedom and national security” and that its exhibitions assisted in ensuring there is a licensed, regulated and open market.

By Katie Allen
published Friday June 1, 2007

Guardian Unlimited

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