Sir Richard Branson has told Virgin Trains to re-stock the Daily Mail on its services, saying he was unaware of the firm's decision to remove the paper from on-board shops until he read about it in the press.
Writing in a blog post on Monday morning (15 January), Branson said the ban wasn't part of "some grand campaign" at his behest. He added that alongside his business partner, Brian Souter, he had asked Virgin Trains to reconsider its position.
"Freedom of speech, freedom of choice and tolerance for differing views are the core principles of any free and open society," Branson wrote. "While Virgin Trains has always said that their passengers are free to read whatever newspaper they choose on board West Coast trains, it is clear that on this occasion the decision to no longer sell The Mail has not been seen to live up to these principles."
Last week, a leaked internal memo from the train group revealed it was to cease stocking the paper following complaints from employees. The memo said the right-wing title was "not compatible" with its own brand values.
In rebuttal, the Mail accused the company of "censorship," claiming that Virgin was limiting the choice of newspapers it offered to passengers for "political reasons" –citing the fact that unlike the Mail, Branson was a remain supporter in the run up to the EU referendum.
Branson said that while he respected the viewpoint of his staff, he was also aware that the move had been seen as censorship by come audiences.
“We must not ever be seen to be censoring what our customers read and influencing their freedom of choice,” he wrote. “Nor must we be seen to be moralising on behalf of others. Instead we should stand up for the values we hold dear and defend them publicly, as I have done with the Mail on many issues over the years.”
Branson has also asked the Virgin team to undertake a full review of its sales policy, making clear that it should not single out individual media titles.
At the end of last year, a similar dispute between the Daily Mail and Paperchase was ignited after the retailer pulled a promotion from the Mail's front page following social media complaints from customers.
Branson's u-turn comes amid an ongoing debate about whether brands should be moral gatekeepers when it comes to these type of issues.