voting fiascos – phone the BBC, ITV, GMTV, Channel 4, Channel 5

Is it just me or are you angry too about all the revelations over irregularities in premium rate phone calling/voting patterns affecting some of the most popular programmes from our national tv broadcasters? The BBC and Channels 4 & 5 have all been found to have cheated/misled their audiences. Even Sky, who have taken a lofty position over the issue, had to admit last week to ‘technical problems’ that had caused one of their contestants on Cirque du Celebrite to be wrongly evicted. Yesterday the Deloitte audit into 60 ITV programmes found ‘serious editorial issues’ over the way premium/voting lines had been managed. Some £7.8m will need to be refunded by the company as ‘problems’ were identified with more than 10m calls from viewers. Mind you that pales in comparison with the irregularities involving 25m calls to GMTV, who were recently fined £2m by Ofcom for ‘widespread and systemmatic deception’. You or I would be standing before a magistrate by now.

I’m pissed off for several reasons:-

– you expect national broadcasters to have greater integrity. These aren’t some sleaze-bag late night channels or bogus spiritualists asking directly for your money. These are the UK’s licensed public broadcasters and they’ve all been stiffing us. Whether it was deliberate or not (and in some cases it has clearly proven to be the case) the fact remains that I feel cheated and I can’t trust them any longer to act responsibly.

– there doesn’t seem to be any sense of true guilt nor shame nor realistic punishment. If I didn’t uphold my end of the contract by paying my licence fee I could be fined or, ulimately, imprisoned. Yesterday Michael Grade said that no-one immediately would lose their job over at ITV for duping the public, rigging shows and misappropriating nearly £8m. Both Ant & Dec who had more than one show singled out in the Deloitte report issued statements saying they had no idea what was going on with the irregular calling practices. But it was put to Michael Grade that they were ‘Executive Producers’ on one of the problem shows and might therefore bear some responsibility for what happened. However it appears that such a title is really a ‘vanity credit’. Something else that’s not for real then. Presumably it’s there to make the lads look good or feel good. By all accounts Ant and Dec were reported to be ‘extremely disappointed’ last night.

– most of you reading this won’t be aware that our eldest daughter has Down’s syndrome. It’s relevant in this because she has a few pleasures in life and one of them is watching television. She loves the soaps (basically the zapper is hers from 4-9pm!) and she’s just crazy for all the shows like X factor, Pop Idol, I’m A Celeb, Soapstar Superstar, You Got Talent, Any Dream, BB, Strictly CD, Dancing on Ice etc etc. All those shows where viewer voting is an essential feature and in R’s case I can tell you that she takes her voting responsibilities seriously. She’s pretty upfront about doing it but every time we get a phone bill we notice a few more of those premium rate numbers on there that she’s dialled maybe when we’ve not been around. You get the picture. We haven’t made a big deal of this because it’s her thing; she just loves the idea of being involved, voting people to stay or go, or a chance to win something. So what, she gets excited and makes a few more phone calls than you or I might? Now, of course we take a different view of the whole damn way in which the major channels have allowed competitions to become rigged and for the votes from millions of fans like R simply not to count, whilst all the time the revenue piles up. The bloody cynics.

– finally there’s the issue of refunds. How do you suppose the companies propose to handle that? You’ll see that yesterday’s statement said that ITV would be refunding ‘up to £7.8m’. You see you and I have to go and make a claim for the refund. It’s not like the broadcasters are going to go through all their call records and refund you automatically for your 75p. Presumably we’ll have to show copies of bills and our calling records, and can you tell from the premium rate number listed 3 years ago which programme that was for? Then there’ll be an issue no doubt over whether that particular number/call was for a rigged competition or a properly organised one and so on. Can you really be bothered to go through it all for £4 back (or slightly more in R’s case – whatever). No of course you’re not. So how much of that repayment fund will find its way back to the cheated callers I wonder. 10%? So far only a fraction has been repaid on the earlier programmes identified. So the channels will have that fund sat in the bank for as long as it takes to settle the claims. How long will it take on average, a year perhaps? You can see the laboured point I’m making can’t you? It won’t be anything like as costly for them as they are making out.

The whole business stinks and I honestly feel the regulator Ofcom has a responsibility to ensure that any punitive measures should fit their wrongful actions as significant, trusted, important institutions. Why not give them 3 months to repay all funds and if they can’t prove they’ve done it satisfactorily, suspend their licences. Appoint a watchdog with real teeth to approve in advance all procedures for viewer participation and revoke permission immediately whenever a problem becomes apparent. If X factor was threatenned with being pulled off it’s schedule, there’d be pretty instant action to eradicate any problems. After all the humble words and ‘extreme disappointment’ they profess, I just don’t trust them to sort out the issues properly, left to themselves? Am I being unfair on them?


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