Melbourne’s Herald Sun has apparently been overstating its official Saturday circulation by as many as 150,000 copies a week. But although fierce rival Fairfax knows about the rort, it has decided not to take on Rupert Murdoch now that he’s the “friendly” owner of 7.5% of Fairfax. 

The circulation anomaly affects as many as 150,000 copies of the paper sold in regional and rural areas which don’t contain either the Home magazine or Real Estate supplement — in apparent breach of the rules of the industry regular, the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

On its website the Herald Sun lists its full Saturday circulation of 522,400 (June 2006) — but Crikey was unable to find any mention of the fact that Real Estate and Home supplements are only distributed to metro areas and not to regional areas.

When Crikey called the Herald Sun about advertising in the real estate section this morning, we weren’t informed about the missing editions. When we asked the saleswoman directly, she initially said ads were folded into the main edition of the paper before admitting they do not run in country areas.

Under Audit Bureau of Circulation rules, incomplete editions of a newspaper can’t be included in the paper’s audited circulation figures. According to the rules: 

Modified Domestic Copies

are copies of an Issue:

(a) which do not contain all advertisements booked to appear for the entire run of the Issue in Australia;

and:

Average Net Paid Sales must be calculated as follows:

S3-2.1.1 Add the total number of copies comprising Gross Paid Sales of each Issue made in the

Reporting Period (

Total Gross Paid Sales).

S3-2.1.2 Deduct from Total Gross Paid Sales the number (if any) of copies which are any of the following and which are included in Total Gross Paid Sales:

(a) Return Copies;

(b) Contra Copies;

(c) Out of Date Copies;

(d) Banded Copies;

(e) Modified Domestic Copies;  

Irrespective of whether Fairfax decides to complain, the Audit Bureau of Circulations should investigate the anomaly to ensure the figures are correct and advertisers are not misled.

And the fact that Fairfax CEO David Kirk knew about this fudge by a major rival and hasn’t acted on it can’t be a good sign for the vigorous independence of Fairfax under its new ownership.

We rang News Limited’s corporate affairs director Greg Baxter but are yet to hear back.

Peter Fray

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