Travel mag blames late payment on SARS virus

The publisher of glossy travel magazine Global Traveller has come under fire from freelances who claim they are owed thousands of pounds for unpaid work.

The title, which is owned by Mask Communications, has not been seen since September but a number of journalists, including its former editor, have been waiting almost a year to get paid.

Freelance travel journalist Eileen Orr is owed around £950 for two features she filed last August. She said she has made repeated calls to the magazine’s publisher, Mukesh Shant, and her e-mails have gone unanswered. She is now on to her eighth invoice.

“In the beginning he’d say, ‘Yes, it’s on its way’. Now I can’t even get him on the phone. I was patient to start with but now I want to strangle him I can’t get hold of him. Like all freelances, I need the cheque because I live from hand to mouth,” she said.

Orr, a former travel editor on Elle, said she was unable to approach the NUJ because she had let her subscription lapse due to her debts. Tom Crouch, editor-in-chief of Global Traveller, is also owed around £1,000. Commissioning editor Colin Ellson is owed around £100 and Caroline Birch is owed an estimated £1,150.

Freelance designer Martin Benge was also owed hundreds of pounds and has since passed away. His widow is still waiting for the cheque.

Ellson said: “It’s just not good enough. We have been made promises since the beginning of the year.” Shant said he was fully aware of the debts and would reimburse the freelances as soon as he could – with the exception of Orr, who he would not be able to pay until the end of July.

He said he had to rely on his commissioned-based sales job at an exhibition company. “Whatever I have left at the end I will pay what I can afford. I’ve not said to them I am not going to pay them.”

He told Press Gazette the latest issue of Global Traveller was not published because he was not prepared to commit £20,000 to £30,000 on distribution and print costs. He blamed the delay in payments on advertisers, September 11 and the SARS virus. “Everywhere in Europe and the Far East is very dry for advertising, what with SARS and everything.

“We didn’t get the last issue out and the advertisers didn’t pay. And the printing costs are quite horrendous. I’ve had a disagreement with the printer,” he said.

Asked why he had not responded to any of the calls or e-mails from freelances, he said: “I was sent to Moscow and only saw the invoices when I got back.”

By Ruth Addicott

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