'Horrified' Media24 admits to false circulation figures

Africa’s largest media company, Media24, has admitted to falsifying the circulation figures of 12 of its 60 magazine titles.

“There have been irregularities in two of our 12 magazine divisions,” Media24 group MD Hein Brand told reporters in Johannesburg on Wednesday. “I would have loved to tell you they were errors, but they were irregularities ... this is an absolutely horrifying experience.”

The affected titles include five magazines from Touchline Media, a Media24 subsidiary, and seven publications from its women’s magazines division that were suspended by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) last month.

Three senior managers from Touchline Media, including MD Marc Blachowitz, have resigned and are under investigation in connection with the false circulation numbers.

“This was a deliberate manipulation of figures by certain individuals.
It certainly wasn’t sanctioned by top management and no editorial staff are implicated,” said Patricia Scholtemeyer, CEO of Media24 Magazines.

The affected magazines are Men’s Health, Sports Illustrated, Wisden Cricketer, Shape, Kick Off, True Love Babe, InStyle SA, True Love, Lééf, Fairlady, Sarie and True Love Bride.

In some cases, circulation figures were inflated by nearly 50%.

Steven Powell, MD of ENS Forensics, which conducted a forensic audit of all Media24 titles, said it recommended that the three Touchline Media managers and six staff members in the women’s magazines division be investigated.

“We’ve had admissions from parties implicated,” said Powell. “It involved the creation of documents which indicated that magazines had changed hands when they hadn’t.”

This means that false invoices were created to reflect magazine sales that never took place.

Media24 made a presentation to the ABC on Tuesday morning after which the bureau announced the suspension of the Touchline Media magazines.

Media24 ordered the audit of all its magazines after discovering discrepancies in the circulation numbers of some women’s magazines.

The company, which boasts a turnover of about R6-billion per year and has branches across Africa, has undertaken to refund advertisers in these titles. Brand declined to put a price to the exercise, saying only it is costing the company “millions”.

“Relative to our big size, I do not think this will put Media24 at financial risk,” he said.

The ABC is in the process of conducting its own independent audit of all the Media24 magazines. It is hoping to have the results available within the next three months.—Sapa

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