Purpose – The purpose of the paper is to examine the extent to which there is shared meaning of the concept of auditor independence between the three major groups of parties on the demand and supply sides of the audit services market – auditors, financial report preparers and financial report users.
Design/methodology/approach – The paper utilises the measurement of meaning framework (semantic differential analysis) originally proposed by Osgood et al. in 1957. The framework is used to investigate the extent to which there is shared meaning (agreement in interpretations) of the independence concept, in response to alternative audit engagement case contexts, between key parties to the financial reporting communication process. The study's research data was collected in the period March 2004-May 2005.
Findings – Findings indicate a robust and stable single-factor cognitive structure within which the research participants interpret the connotative meaning of the auditor independence concept. An analysis of the experimental cases finds similarities in connotations (interpretations) of an audit firm's independence for the participant groups for most cases, with the exception of cases involving the joint provision of audit and non-audit (taxation) services.
Research limitations/implications – The usual external validity threat that applies to experimental research generally applies to the study. That is, the results may not be generalisable to settings beyond those examined in the study. An important implication of the study is that it emphasises the continuing problematic nature of the joint provision of audit and non-audit services, even in situations where the non-audit services comprise only traditional taxation services.
Originality/value – The study is the first to examine the concept of auditor independence by means of the Osgood et al. measurement of meaning research framework using, as research participants, the three major groups on the demand and supply sides of the audit services market.
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