The president of the Media Federation of Australia says he will
investigate allegations of rorting of newspaper and magazine
circulations, following yesterday’s detailed insider’s account in
Crikey Daily revealing how one of Australia’s biggest newspaper groups
routinely inflates its circulations.

“Obviously we are keen to
investigate the accuracy of these investigations ASAP, and we will be
doing so via our industry body,” said John Sintras, who is also chief
operating officer of the large media buyer Starcom, who provided us
with a detailed account of how one of Australia’s biggest newspaper
groups routinely and illegally inflates its circulations.

John
Sintras has been pushing to improve “the integrity of the information
that dictates the placement of $1.4 billion of advertising each year”
for some time, as this 2003 AFR reportreveals.

Sintras
said the MFA would start by asking the Audit Bureau of Circulations,
the official industry body overseeing newspaper and magazine
circulations, for its response. But he’s unlikely to be overwhelmed or
surprised by its reaction. The ABC is regarded as a stooge for the
publishers, and has consistently refused to get really tough with
circulation rorting practices that nearly all senior media executives
know about and condone.

After all, how would the CEOs and top
executives of the biggest newspaper and magazine companies in Australia
look if a police or ACCC investigation proved they had been presiding
over circulation fraud for decades? Not something the ABC would be
proud of.

Meanwhile, Crikey has received a flow of information about the illegal practices.

A magazine industry insider has this story:

My
experience relates to the circulation audit process of a very big
Australian magazine in which I was involved. The way you got the
circulation figure you needed was to ensure you had the right auditor.
The best one was the guy who had a real liking for very good red wine.
Make sure he came to do the six-monthly audit just before lunch, move
him through the paperwork quickly, then out to a long lunch where he
chooses the finest wines. Back to the office to sign off, and
everyone’s happy (except the advertisers, if only they knew).


Another reader in the media industry writes:

There
could be huge discrepancies in what is purported to be an audited
circulation of several magazines versus what these magazines actually
sell. In fact it would appear that the ABC’s stated figure in some
cases is way above the number of magazines PRINTED, let alone sold.

This information has been obtained from personnel who have worked in certain companies at a senior level.

We
makes no assumptions as to the validity of these claims however we are
interested to know how stringent the auditing procedure is. The claims
centre around companies that publish AND print their own magazines…
where there is no third party. The magazines are all of the smaller
variety… fewer than 100,000 circulation and whose advertising base is
largely from direct sales as opposed to via ad agencies.

If
someone owned and printed a stable of magazines and wanted to inflate
their audit… does the ABC feel confident enough in their auditing
procedures to guarantee that they would be exposed?

… and another reader writes:

At
Rugby Super 12 matches a copy of a newspaper is included in the price
of the game ticket, and this is announced during the match. All adds to
the circulation eh – and with Rugby might push up the oft-mentioned AB
readership numbers when it comes to survey time. They give the papers
away as you walk out of the ground – in not environmentally friendly
plastic bags.

Peter Fray

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