12 Building a print circulations audit system

12.16. Rules for complaints and penalties

It is not enough to only have in place good (audit) rules. The ABC must be able to enforce them. Competition is tough, and there will always be members who will breach the rules, so be prepared.

An ABC must create and maintain rules for complaints, as well as apply penalties to its members. This is the most important fundamental of the self-regulatory character of an ABC organization. The attention given to this issue, as well as to the consistent application and communication of them, is the cornerstone of the credibility of an ABC. It will guarantee the practice and preservation of the highest standards.

The principles that apply in creating a complaint (procedure) are:

• Have maximum transparency – inform members and the market about any complaint.
• Have an independent investigation and decision-making team; do not allow the parties involved to be part of the handling group.
• Be professional. Make sure you investigate if the complaint holds, and start the investigations only after this step. Make sure you have proper legal support.
• Make sure to apply the ABC rules equally. In order to be credible, you must apply the rules to everyone, regardless of their position within the ABC and the market.
• Make sure it will be done quickly – minimize the response time.
• Publish the decisions. Make sure the market knows of the complaint, process, and your decision.

Here is a list of areas that should be backed by clear complaint rules.

• Missing deadlines for providing the data for audits, or for publishers’ statements.
• Inaccurate, or missing data.
• Unwillingness to audit the data.
• Cheating, manipulating the data, misleading the auditors.
• Improper documentation of the data.
• Misusing the ABC data and/or its logo(s).
• Unethical attack of a publisher with ABC data.

In case a publisher is misusing the Hungarian ABC logo, we use the following complaint procedure:

• Receive the complaint. It can come from both members or non-members.
• Our ABC has a media monitoring service, so we can observe the publication of our logo in the Hungarian media. We have the obligation to start ex-officio complaints as well.
• Handling and assessing the complaint: we record the complaint, and use our legal advisors to make sure the complaint is not withdrawn. In other words, there is a period of time between the receiving of a complaint and the initiating the assessment of it.
• If the complaint holds:

  • The secretariat of the ABC sends an official note to the board of directors of the ABC, as well as to the plaintive, announcing the recording of the complaint, and the actions to be taken.
  • We publish a statement (on our website, and in e-mail to all members) about the complaint, and its content.
  • The secretariat writes an official letter to the publisher who misused the ABC logo, asking it to state in which issues of the publication the logo was misused. We also ask the publisher to send copies of the issues in discussion, and a full list of advertisers and advertising agencies which placed ads in the respective issues. We verify the ads, and compare them with the list sent by the publisher. If there is any difference – missing advertiser or agency from the publisher’s list – we ask for a correction.
  • The ABC writes a rectification notice, which must be published in the respective publication, in clearly readable size and form, exactly in the place where the logo was misused.
  • The publisher must write the rectification text on his official stationary, sending out copies to the number of advertisers and agencies affected. The letters must be addressed, postmarked accordingly, and sent unsealed to the ABC.
  • We verify the letters, close them, and mail them.
  • We publish a statement that the complaint procedure was closed, and send a note to all parties involved.

• If the complaint doesn’t hold, we announce this decision to the plaintive, and there is no public communication whatsoever on the issue.

In case of late transmission of data (we have strict deadlines for publishers, who have to send us the data for the audits):

• If the deadline is missed, we issue a penalty invoice of 25 percent of the audit fee of the given publication, and agree upon a new deadline for sending the data.
• If the second deadline is also missed, we issue another penalty invoice of 50 percent of the audit fee, and agree upon a third deadline.
• If this last deadline is missed, we exclude the publication from the audit, and release a public statement to the market.

I offered the two examples because there are two things that publishers dislike: to pay (more) money, and get negative public relations. If a new ABC wants to keep order among publishers, maintain a high standard of the audits, these are the two most effective means to be used.

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