Arabic titles told to join audit drive

Publishers of Arabic newspapers and magazines have been warned they must embrace demands for circulation audits or face being cut from advertising schedules.

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By  Tim Addington and Steve Wrelton Published  April 2, 2006

Publishers of Arabic newspapers and magazines have been warned they must embrace demands for circulation audits or face being cut from advertising schedules. Currently just four out of 38 publications or websites that have either applied for or have undergone audits from both the Audit Bureau of Circulation UK and BPA Worldwide are Arabic language titles. The call for greater transparency from Arabic publications comes as Gulf News, regarded as the market leading English language UAE daily, announced plans to open up its books to the ABC and BPA. There are now just two daily English papers in the UAE — Emirates Today and Gulf Today — out of five that have not yet applied for an audit. But none of the seven Arabic daily papers, including market leaders Al Bayan, Al Ittihad or Al Khaleej, has yet joined up. The Circulation Audit Steering Organisaton (Castor), set up to drive auditing, said that the threat to withdraw advertising from publications that have not applied for an audit by the end of the year, applies equally to Arabic titles as English. Castor spokesman, Philip Jabbour, managing director at Starcom, said Arabic titles had the most to gain from being audited because they reach a wider audience. “From our perspective there is no difference on the audit drive whether they are Arabic or English. The English titles have jumped on board quite quickly by the mere fact of the nature of people involved, they are aware of what auditing is.” But he added: “Arabic publications stand the most to gain because of their proliferation into the market. In terms of the UAE, it is critical that the likes of Al Bayan, Al Ittihad and Al Khaleej are audited. It will take one or two key publishers to commit and the rest will follow.” Stuart Wilkinson, director of Europe Middle East and Africa at the BPA, said: “There isn’t a culture of full disclosure or transparency in general business practices, or at least that is the perceived wisdom. They have either been a monopoly or been in a market with just one or two competitors in the past; auditing hasn’t been a major issue. “If an advertiser wanted to advertise they would flick a coin and use one, or both. But media has developed in different forms. They are competing with TV, radio, outdoor and the internet. These are the driving forces that should encourage the move towards a measurement system for their own business health.” Martyn Gates, director of newspapers and consumer magazines at ABC UK, said that the success of auditing in the region was dependent on Arabic titles taking part. He said: “If Arabic language publications do not take up more transparent reporting and do not suffer any consequences from the advertisers, it is difficult to see how accountability in the region is sustainable. The Arabic publications are an integral part of the Gulf region’s media landscape and must be engaged.” But some Arabic language publishers have complained that there is a lack of trust in the auditing process. Saudi Research Publishing Company resigned its audits with ABC UK in the 1990s, complaining that the methods used to verify circulation claims were not robust enough. The Gulf News also left the ABC in the same decade after questioning the credibility of “highest circulation” claims made by newspapers that used ABC figures. The audit organisation has since changed its procedures. Ramzi El Hafez, founder of Lebanon’s InfoPro, which publishes Business Week Arabiya, which has not yet been audited, said: “In the future if you’re not audited you will be at a disadvantage, except that I do not know when that will be. The question is when will the tide turn, when will the advertisers impose it?” Wajih Halawa at Jordan-based Grumpy Gourmet Publishing, which produces women’s magazine, Anty, said companies were reluctant to undergo auditing because it would reveal them as “frauds”. “They know that no one is checking, so they will tell you that they distribute 20,000 copies, but they might only print 500 or 1000. Too many publications are afraid of what audits will reveal though, because it will expose them as frauds.”

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