London – Reed Elsevier will auction off its $50 million defense exhibitions unit over mounting controversy. Physician groups, academics, an investor and others have stepped up their protests, citing what they believe is a dichotomy over Reed publishing the leading medical journals and promoting the arms industry through its defense exhibitions.
Reed Elsevier, which publishes over 2,000 scientific, medical, and educational journals, expects to complete its withdrawal from the defense sector during the second half of the year. The defense unit generated £25 million of revenue in 2006 (about $50 million dollars), accounting for 0.5% of the turnover (revenues) of its global business division. The five events include Defence Systems and Equipment International in London and the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi.
A Target for Activists
Reed Elsevier previously rejected calls to sell the unit, saying the events were organized at the highest standards. But Reed had become a target of peace activists, particularly physician groups that insisted that Reed could not in good conscience be involved in medical publishing while also providing a forum for companies that sell deadly weapons. Editorials voicing disapproval of Reed Elsevier were published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the British Medical Journal as well as in The Lancet, the respected British medical journal that is a flagship of Reed’s journals portfolio. Nearly 1,500 scientists, academics, and health care professionals signed a petition calling for Reed to abandon its involvement in “international arms exhibitions.” A small group of scientists pledged to boycott all Reed Elsevier journals until the company stopped organizing such exhibitions. And earlier this year, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a U.K.-based philanthropic organization, sold £2 million worth of its shares (about $4 million) in Reed Elsevier.
The Ethics of Ownership
Reed Elsevier CEO Sir Crispin Davis said June 1 that while defense shows had performed well for the company, the mounting criticism was seen as a threat to its larger journals business. “Growing numbers of important customers and authors have very real concerns about our involvement in the defense exhibitions business,” he said.
“We have listened closely to these concerns and this has led us to conclude that the defense shows are no longer compatible with Reed Elsevier’s position as a leading publisher of scientific, medical, legal and business content,” Davis said.
The move was cheered by activists and by Reed’s Lancet journal. In a statement, Lancet editors indicated cutting ties with the defense industry would stave off a potential schism with the medical community.
The statement said in part: “The Lancet has great hopes to extend its reach into new settings in coming years. To succeed in that endeavor, we will depend upon the global publishing network that Elsevier has created. As health professionals and scientists ourselves, it is important that we are seen to be trusted partners of the health and medical communities. The decision by Reed Elsevier to withdraw from military exhibitions will help us to build strong partnerships, which are so essential to our future.”
Reach John Kellagher, Reed Expositions, +44 (0) 20 8910 7910 or John.Kellagher@reedexpo.co.uk.