Dubai: More than 2,000 leading professionals are participating in the 40th International Advertising Association World Congress that began here yesterday.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, Gulf News announced that its circulation will be audited by two of the world's leading newspaper audit companies. The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) and BPA Worldwide will each publish circulation figures for the newspaper later this year.

Senior officials at Gulf News have asked the companies to carry out comprehensive end-to-end audits that exceed international standards and have said other newspapers should be subject to similar scrutiny.

The announcement comes two years after Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, Managing Director of Al Nisr Group, publisher of Gulf News, questioned the credibility of the highest circulation claims made by other English-language dailies that cited ABC figures.

He said English-language print media should substantiate claims by commissioning comprehensive audits by two international audit firms which should include checks on circulation in neighbouring states.

Earlier this year Gulf News recommended to the Circulation Audit Steering Committee that the scope of the standard audit should be widened in the Gulf to cover "loopholes" used by "unscrupulous publishers" to inflate figures.

"The challenge of 2003 remains unanswered, but we have taken the initiative to act upon our own challenge and have ourselves audited comprehensively by both ABC and BPA," Al Tayer said.

The four-day event will examine various advertising and media-related issues, including the challenges faced by the Arab media. Industry professionals will also share their experiences.

Gulf News will publish circulation figures that are "more credible" than those claimed by other English-language newspapers in the UAE, the paper's Editor-in-Chief has said.

The paper has called for improvements to current auditing practice in the UAE to prevent newspapers from publishing inflated circulation figures.

Gulf News will have its circulation audited by two leading international companies in the field, the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) and BPA Worldwide.

The two organisations will each publish a circulation figure for the newspaper later this year.

Abdul Hamid Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of Al Nisr Publishing, the publisher of Gulf News, and magazine publisher Al Nisr Media, said by introducing two circulation audits the newspaper was exceeding international best practice.

"In every country where there are newspapers and magazines there is auditing. It is very important for the credibility of the newspaper and for the advertising agencies and advertisers themselves.

"However, in the UAE that culture has not been there. When auditing was started here, it was not done on a professional basis. There are companies who do auditing but the numbers they reveal are not credible.

"We need neutral and independent findings and one audit to produce a circulation figure might not be enough. We are introducing two so that we are more credible than the others. We have accepted our own challenge because the business needs it and we are ready," he said.

ABC and BPA Worldwide will each produce a figure for Gulf News's circulation from January to June this year.

Duleep George, Marketing and Sales Director of Al Nisr Publishing, said the figures would take "a couple of months" to compile once the six-month period is completed.

He added that similar circulation figures for the January-to-June period would be produced for magazines such as Wheels, Aquarius, Property Weekly and Inside Out that are published by Al Nisr Media.

Sport Extra, which is published by Al Nisr Publishing, will also be audited although magazines such as Friday that are provided free with Gulf News will not.

George said that Gulf News had called on ABC and BPA Worldwide to make the circulation audits extra rigorous.

"They will be looking at our records and we are suggesting to them what extra checks they can do. We have suggested they do more than is necessary, but it's up to them to do the audit.

"The problem is that the audits that are being done at the moment do not really plug the loopholes that exist," he said.

He added that the audits would "substantiate what Gulf News has been saying all along" that it has a higher circulation than other English-language newspapers in the region.

"We're going to throw our books open. We're saying they should go ahead and check all these figures, not just the ones they normally look at. We're suggesting they do the same with the other newspapers," he said.

He said if improved audits were introduced at rival newspapers they would probably show that those newspapers were not selling in the quantities currently claimed.

Audited circulation figures for Gulf News would help to substantiate the readership figures that the newspaper has published previously, George added.

"Media planning starts with readership figures and circulation only validates them," he said.