EDITOR’S COMMENT: Trinity Mirror fix shouldn’t tar the regional press

Last Thursday was a sad day for the regional press as Trinity Mirror took to the City confessional and admitted to some scandalous circulation-figure fixing on its Birmingham papers.

Last Thursday was a sad day for the regional press as Trinity

Mirror took to the City confessional and admitted to some scandalous

circulation-figure fixing on its Birmingham papers.



Such jiggery-pokery will reflect badly on regional newspapers as a

whole, and will not have been greeted with glee by the ABC. But before

we criticise the audit system, lay the blame at the door of ’circulation

bonuses’ and denigrate the regional press, it is worth taking a closer

look at the situation in Birmingham.



The ad sales team, which could benefit to some degree from the falsely

boosted circulation, knew nothing of the ’irregularities’.



Nor, as far as anyone knows, did the senior managers on the paper. It

looks as if this was a fiddle perpetrated by a very small handful of

people in the circulation department.



One national newspaper, reporting on last week’s events, suggested the

strong emphasis on circulation figures and the bonuses offered had made

it just too tempting for staff to resist the scam. This is nonsense -

hundreds of thousands of workers are under pressure to deliver the right

figures to their bosses or bank managers every week, but almost all of

them manage it without falsifying the numbers.



It would also be easy to blame the ABC auditing system. The way the

figures are recorded seems unnecessarily complicated to the uninitiated,

and it is easy to pour scorn on a system that did not pick up the fact

the Evening Mail was inventing a fictional 30,000 copies every single

day for the past five years.



But the ABC system is a good one, providing a balance between an

easy-to-understand system and the range of information that advertisers

require.



And the ABC does not carry out the regional circulation audits -

sensibly it leaves that task to the normally inscrutable accountancy

firms.



PricewaterhouseCoopers was the accountant in this case, and it must

shoulder some of the blame for not picking up the irregularities. But

mud never seems to stick on the accountancy giants, so PWC may escape

unscathed.



Let’s hope the regional press and ABC escape too. There’s no evidence

that this is anything other than a one-off irregularity perpetrated by a

few individuals. And although it should serve as a warning to others,

there have been no similar scandals in this country in recent years and

the majority of circulation and sales directors are at pains to present

their readers with an accurate and transparent picture of their

readership.



If the financial director at a single retail or travel company is found

to have embezzled money, we don’t instantly assume every travel company

is on the make. Why should this situation be any different?



jonah.bloom@haynet.com.



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