Allegations that the Sunday Times had “fudged” its numbers submitted to the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) were not true, the Times Media Group said on Wednesday. The 12 500 copies under dispute had been incorrectly classified as business subscriptions, and had now been reclassified as voucher copies.
A story on the front page of the Gupta-owned newspaper, The New Age, claimed the Sunday Times had been “ordered to withdraw its circulation certificates” dating back to June last year. It said the ABC had investigated the newspaper’s stated sales figures, resulting in the decision to withdraw the audit certificates.
The ABC, in a statement, said that during a routine check audit on Times Media Group’s newspapers, “it was established that certain copies of the Sunday Times were incorrectly classified as business subscriptions.
“The ABC determined that these copies qualify as voucher copies and will be re-classified accordingly,” it said, adding that the circulation certificates of the Sunday Times would be “adjusted for the previous 12 months i.e. from Quarter 2 (July- September) 2014, and revised circulation figures issued.
“The exact number of copies to be excluded from circulation has yet to be precisely determined, but is in the region of 12 500 copies.”
Managing director of Times Media, Andy Gill, said TMG management had “met with the ABC board to debate the re-classification of the copies as Third-party Bulk, since there was no debate as to whether the copies were distributed and received by the intended recipients. The decision by the ABC board was however that the copies should be classified as voucher copies and we will abide by the decision”.
The Sunday Times in a statement said it was “important to note that the copies are not being questioned as to their actual delivery or use, but on the basis of a contract that was not directly aligned with ABC rules”.
President of the ABC, Gordon Patterson, told The Media Online he was “delighted by the attention that this particular check audit has attracted and hope that other check audits receive similar attention, although I doubt it.
“I cannot help but suspect that a degree of mischievousness lies at the source of the current speculation,” he said.
Patterson said check audits were an ongoing process within the ABC’s routines. “As a critical currency, you will appreciate that the ABC cannot be drawn into speculation nor rushed to release incomplete data. Our responsibility to our stakeholders requires restraint in order to defend transparency and preserve the trustworthy reputation that our ABC has built over the years,” he said. “Often I speak to colleagues around the world and I can assure you that our ABC is respected and viewed as a progressive source of innovative solutions that many countries struggle to implement.”
Earlier, Patterson said he was aware of the story published in the public domain as he was contacted by a non-ABC audited publication last night and asked for comment.
“I’m really curious about the source of the ‘leaks’ received and wonder what the motivations might be? It could possibly be to achieve a commercial advantage in the tough trading conditions, to distract attention away from their own poor performance. It could even have come from publishers that do not have the courage to even join the ABC for fear of the transparency and possible contradiction that independent measure might reveal,” he said.
“It could be a number of things, I guess.”
Patterson said it was “clear” that the leak was “choreographed to just pre-empt the ABC announcement so as to create the impression that little or no progress was being achieved. Fortunately this will be seen by industry commentators for what it really is, a cheap shot!”
The ABC said it undertakes a “considerable number of check audits each year within its audit and reporting processes” and that it remained “resolute in its commitment to all stakeholders to uphold the integrity of the currency, and to deliver accurate, credible, and consistent circulation data”.
In its statement, the Sunday Times said although the 12 500 weekly copies of the Sunday Times would now be classified differently and would subsequently not be reported as part of its core circulation figures, the newspaper has continued to grow its readership.
“Readership of other weekly newspapers has declined by 1.3%, yet the Sunday Times’ reader base has grown by 8.8% year-on-year (AMPS 2015BA vs AMPS 2014BA – Jul14-Jun15 vs Jul13-Jun14),” it reported.
“We will continue to innovate to grow the footprint of our titles and seek new readers and build value for our advertisers,” says Trevor Ormerod, GM sales and marketing. “Through distribution we will always look to access new markets and develop readership.”
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