Audit bureau censures Tele over sales claims

The Audit Bureau of Circulations has officially censured Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph over how it compared its sales to those of rival The Sydney Morning Herald.

The statement:

3 December 2010 – Nationwide News has been censured following a breach of the ABC’s publicity rules in relation to the misreporting of audited circulation data for the July to September 2010 ABC Reporting Period.

The incident involved a claim made in a media release issued by Nationwide News on Thursday November 11, 2010 that Saturday edition sales excluding ‘Bundled’, ‘Event’, ‘Education’ and ‘Accommodation and Airlines’ sales had ‘overtaken The Sydney Morning Herald for the very first time’. That claim was also published in the Friday, November 12 edition of The Daily Telegraph.

The ABC Publicity Rules prohibit the reproduction of its data to create figures which do not appear in any formal release of ABC data. The ABC took immediate action requiring Nationwide News to issue a retraction in the form of a Media Release and article published in the Daily Telegraph to correct the misinformation.

The ABC’s immediate response and ensuing sanctions highlight the importance the industry body places on the accuracy and consistency of the reporting of Average Net Paid Sales and the application of its rules and guidelines.

‘The strength and consistent application of ABC’s Rules and Guidelines delivers confidence in ABC’s audited data, making Average Net Paid Sales the stable currency on which print has been traded for the last 78 years’ said Scott McClellan, CEO AANA, ‘ABC members will defend the integrity of their rules at all costs.’

ABC’s Chairman Dr Stephen Hollings noted that ‘Bundled’, ‘Event’, ‘Education’ and ‘Accommodation and Airlines’ sales are legitimate elements of an Average Net Paid Sale and, while broken out as percentages for transparency, they cannot be viewed in isolation or reported separately to the ABC’s Average Net Paid Sales and that the publicity rules prevent the manipulation of ABC data. He also noted ‘that an important feature of the major overhaul of ABC’s rules in 2006 was the protection of the ABC Average Net Paid Sale figure. Any attempt to manipulate or create new figures could not be supported by ABC members.’


On Thursday November 11, 2010, Nationwide News issued a Media Release, embargoed until Friday November 12, in relation to audited circulation data for the July to September 2010 ABC reporting period. The Media Release titled ‘The Daily Telegraph celebrates Australia’s highest newspaper circulation increase’, made the assertion that the Saturday edition of The Daily Telegraph, published by Nationwide News was outselling its competitor, The Sydney Morning Herald for the ‘very first time’.

The assertion was based on a sales figure derived from the Average Net Paid Sales which is audited and reported quarterly by the ABC. The release reported figures that were adjusted to exclude sales classified and reported under the ABC Rules and Guidelines as ‘Bundled’, ‘Event’, ‘Education’ and ‘Accommodation and Airlines’.

On Friday November 12, 2010, The Daily Telegraph published an article on Page 2 of the newspaper titled ‘Thanks to all our readers’. The article was based on the above mentioned Nationwide News’ Media Release, and included the assertion that The Daily Telegraph’s Saturday edition was outselling the Sydney Morning Herald in paid sales. The Daily Telegraph’s assertion did not include a reference to how the sales figure was derived.

On that same day, a complaint was received by the ABC from a member who considered the Media Release and article were in breach of the ABC’s publicity rules. In particular, it was alleged that Nationwide News had manipulated ABC data by excluding ‘Bundled’, ‘Event’, ‘Education’ and ‘Accommodation and Airlines’ sales to create a false impression of their Saturday audited sales figure for the ABC reporting period ended September 30, 2010.

The complaint was referred immediately to the ABC Executive Committee who met on Monday November 15, 2010. After considering the matter, the ABC Executive Committee determined unanimously that the Media Release and corresponding article breached ABC’s Rule 34.0 and in particular 34.4.2, which, prohibits the calculation of Average Net Paid Sales categories to create other figures, which do not appear in any ABC Circulation Summary.

In reaching their decision, the Executive Committee noted the severity of the breach and the importance of rectifying the misinformation that had been promoted to the market and broader public through the offending material. To rectify the breach the ABC Executive Committee required Nationwide News to take the following actions:

  1. To issue a statement of retraction and clarification to the recipients of the original media release issued on Thursday, November 11, 2010.
  2. The publication of an article in the Daily Telegraph retracting and clarifying the offending article dated Friday, November 12, 2010.

Nationwide News issued a retraction on Thursday, November 18, 2010 following review and approval by the ABC Executive Committee.

The Daily Telegraph published an incorrect clarification on page 123 of the Saturday, November 27, 2010 edition. The ABC Executive Committee noted that the article included an erroneous reference to the date of the offending article, reporting it as Saturday, November 13, rather than Friday, November 12. The correct ABC Average Net Paid Sales figures for the Saturday editions for the period ended September 2010 as follows:

  • The Daily Telegraph – 325,000+;

  • The Sydney Morning Herald – 332,066

Source: ABC announcement


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