London's controversial Mayor Ken Livingstone has stoked the fires of a free newspaper war in the capital.
Associated Newspapers' morning freebie Metro enjoys a distribution monopoly at London's underground railway sites, a deal currently under investigation by competition regulator, the Office of Fair Trading.
Ahead of an awaited recommendation by the OFT, mayor Livingstone has opened the bidding process for a second contract to distribute a free afternoon paper via the same outlets as Metro.
Leftist Livingstone, who harbours a mutual hostility for the rabidly rightwing Associated and its publications, is unwilling to wait any longer for the OFT's reportedly "imminent" ruling.
He says: "For the past six years Associated Newspapers has distributed the Metro in the morning. It's a matter of public record that other newspaper businesses would be willing to distribute a free afternoon paper and might even pay more than we are getting for the Metro deal."
By "other newspaper businesses" Livingstone could well be referring to Richard Desmond's media empire Express Newspapers which has long threatened to publish a free afternoon daily if Associated's monopoly is broken [WAMN 14-Jan-05].
Other bidders for the contract might include Rupert Murdoch's News International group and the Guardian Media Group .
Livingstone claims Associated's deal with Transport for London, which owns the city's underground network, is worth £1 million ($1.9m, €1.4m), but believes the publisher should pay much more, up to £5m.
The mayor says an afternoon contract could earn as much again, the money from which would be reinvested in the transport system.
Data sourced from MediaGuardian.co.uk; additional content by WARC staff