The bureau said a glitch in internal procedures had caused the incomplete report to be released while the audit committee had sought an explanation from the Star.
The official report, posted online since Nov 22, did not include figures for the Star’s sales for the 2010-2011 period because the ABC audit committee had asked for further explanations on the increase reported for the first half of 2011, which went against the trend of the past few years.
The Star’s daily sales have been sliding since 2005 but for the first half of this year, the Star submitted figures that showed an increase of 10,000 copies in average daily sales over the six months.
ABC’s vice-chairman, Karthigesu Palanisamy, said on Wednesday that the Star’s figures had not been disputed as such, only that the Star had been asked by the ABC audit committee to explain the sudden rise this year, and that such sudden spurts are routinely given extra scrutiny by the audit committee
ABC audit committee chairman Margaret Au-Yong said the mixup happened because of an internal glitch in ABC procedures. “We wanted to know why there had been a rise in sales this year,” Margaret said. The Star’s circulation manager and his team explained met the committee to explain their marketing and distribution strategies and plans. “After listening to their explanations and going through the figures and distribution lists, we were satisfied and approved the report,” Margaret said.
Sales figures are sometimes disputed either by rival publishers or advertisers and the ABC and readership survey firm Neilsen Research both also come under criticism over the validity and accuracy of their reports.
The Star, as a public-listed company and with the lion’s share of print advertising, would also be sensitive towards any doubts about its figures — especially as it is now headed by longtime advertising man Vincent Lee, head of the Naga DDB advertising agency with a reputation for skills in branding.
Vincent was president of the 4A’s, the advertising agencies’ association, for five years. He stepped down in March 2010 shortly before being appointed to the Star’s board of directors. In January this year he became executive deputy chairman and initiated moves to improve the paper’s branding, including a revamp of the newspaper’s design in May.
The company is run by former journalist Ho Kay Tat, who became group managing director and CEO in July.
Margaret said that after hearing the Star’s explanations last month, she had verbally told ABC secretariat staff to release the ABC 2011 report, which they did using the set previously approved by the ABC Board. It did not have the Star’s figures as these were then awaiting full Board approval.
On Tuesday evening (a day after our report about the missing figures), ABC staff posted an updated copy of the 2011 report, now including the Star’s figures. Margaret said she had told the staff on Tuesday to do so, in her capacity as head of the audit committee.
She agreed there had been many phone calls from the industry about the report, and that the ABC does come under pressure from the industry. “We need to get our reports out quickly,” she said. “A lot of people want these figures to make their plans.”
She says her committee and the ABC board wants to improve procedures and release the reports quickly. As an example, she said “people want to have this year’s figures out within the year instead of waiting until March”. (ABC reports cover two six-month periods, July-December and January-June.) Last year the ABC announced plans to revitalise the Bureau and to improve the web site, which now sports a more professional design and has more utility.
Margaret, a media planning specialist herself, has been more than 25 years in the industry. She represents the advertisers’ association on the ABC Board, though she is head of media and property at Tune group (which includes Air Asia).
The Audit Bureau of Circulation comprises representatives of advertisers (companies that advertise their products or services), media planners and buyers (number-crunching specialists who analyse the market and recommend ways to spend advertising money), advertising agencies (who plan advertising campaigns and design advertisements), and newspaper and magazine publishers (usually represented by circulation or marketing executives).
The chairmanship rotates among advertisers, agencies and the media specialists. The current chairman is Chan Sheow-Vern of Unilever.
• On Monday:» Does the Star have something to hide about sales?
• Last Friday at Malaysian Insider: » As election anger subsides, newspapers recover
- ABC: Why auditing is essential in an online media age (briefingmedia.wordpress.com)
- Wall Street Journal circulation figures to be investigated (guardian.co.uk)
- Peers clash over Northern Ireland papers – but which one is right? (guardian.co.uk)