Tuesday, April 18, 2017

THE TIMES & CORPORATESPORT HAVE BEEN PLAYING AN ILLEGAL GAME FOR YEARS


Dear Newspaper Readers,
Andrew Bonamour Times Media's CEO
          You would have thought that a large organisation like the Times Media Group that claims to be a “premier newspaper and magazine publisher with the most recognised brands in South Africa” would know one of the most elementary advertising legal requirements.
          Included in its stable are the Sunday Times and its daily offshoot The Times.
          For years The Times and perhaps other newspapers have been blatantly breaking the law by carrying illegal CorporateSport advertisements for its business breakfasts.
Part of Times Media's pledge
          This firm that is in sports management and marketing claims that these occasions “have become the most established breakfast forums in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban and offer sponsors a cost effective and focused environment through which to impact large captive business audiences and enjoy the effective brand exposure.”
          Various high profile sporting personalities such as rugby coach Brendon Venter; Proteas cricketers Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn and All Blacks Kieran Read and Israel Dagg have been the stars of these events.

          Sponsors of the breakfasts have included firms like Vodacom, Mimecast international cloud based email managers, Landrover, Accenture the business management consultants and McCarthy Toyota. The backers of these get togethers must surely take some of the blame for what has been going on.
          But none of the top business people who have been involved in these breakfasts over the years or anybody at the Times Media Group appear to have noticed that the CorporateSport advertisements were illegal because the prices given excluded VAT.
          The VAT tax came into force in South Africa in 1991 and the South African Revenue Service’s VAT Guide begins its “10 Important Principles” with this: “All prices charged, advertised or quoted by a vendor must include VAT at the applicable rate (presently 14% for standard-rated supplies).”

Another extract from the Times Media pledge
          The earliest CoporateSport advertisement I could find was a 2013 one that gave the prices for individuals and tables of 10 marked (excl.VAT). And the firm has been breaking the law like this since then or even before that aided and abetted by The Times Media Group, which more than perhaps any other type of business should have known better.
          When I pointed this out to Andrew Bonamour the Chief Executive of Times Media in an email he replied promptly saying: “I will look into it. Thanks.”
          Oops almost a month later on 10 April I told him, “You need look no further than one of your own papers, today’s The Times.”

          In one of those quirks of life Wendy Knowler, that ace consumer expert, who writes regularly for The Times, just happened to have a page spread about advertising. In it she told us: “‘The price you see is the price you pay’” was the catchy phrase devised by the Government “many years ago when value-added tax was first introduced.”
          “By law,” she went on, “retailers had to advertise VAT-inclusive prices - and still do. So that was intended to impress on consumers that no retailer could add tax to an advertised price.”
          But undeterred CorporateSport has been doing just that.
          Bonamour passed the problem on to his General Manager Reardon Sanderson who told me he had spoken to Ross Fraser, the head of CorporateSport and “he will amend the adverts going forward. We should not have a repeat of this,” he added.
          Meanwhile my efforts to get comment from Fraser went unanswered. I assume he got my 11 April email because I checked with his PA and she phoned me back to say it had been received.
          He seems to keep out of the limelight as I could find nothing about him on the internet. So perhaps not answering my emails is just part of his hideaway approach to life.  
          In the last one I told him that as his advertisements stating “excl.VAT” were illegal then people who had paid more than the advertised price were all entitled to a refund, going back years, of 14% if that’s what they were charged. And judging by the website pictures showing the crowds of people who attend these CorporateSport gatherings this could mean a great deal of money.


          Evidently as a result of my inquiries an advertisement for the 11 May 2017 breakfast gives two prices for tables of 10 and two for individuals. One is the (excl.VAT) price while the other one is the (incl.VAT) price.

          This prompted me to email Reardon saying: “I suggest this is not right either. If ALL advertised prices have to include VAT then the ones that don’t are surely not legal. And this latest ad suggests you have a choice, to pay the price that includes VAT or the one without it.”
          I questioned why CorporateSport was so obsessed with pointing out the Vat aspect in its ads. “Surely the Vat amount is given on all its receipts and everybody who goes to the kind of event that it organises will know that VAT will be charged,” I argued.
          Reardon has yet to reply to this email.
The Times & Corporatesport finally get it right in the
paper's 21 April edition although the '(incl. VAT)' is
not necessary
          Regards
         Jon, the Spoil Sport; Consumer Watchdog and Poorman’s Press Ombudsman who evidently reads the The Times a lot more thoroughly than they do at Times Media.
    

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