OPINION: TV is in the dock, and must defend itself

TV's cash for calls scandal is being gleefully exposed on an almost daily basis by newspapers, some of which are doubtlessly giving in to their resentment at what they see as television's holier than thou attitude to their own operations.

Trusted broadcast names are being associated with a practice which looks about as ethical as a conman's game of three-card monte. Victims include children, pensioners and the jobless - the most vulnerable members of society.

TV companies are losing millions at a time when advertising revenues are dwindling. And the exposure of the apparently widespread malpractices is now threatening the basic bond of trust between the whole TV media and their consumers.

The fundamental challenge for the in-house and emergency crisis management teams being drafted in, is to restore trust in the most influential medium of the past half century. That cosy relationship of the friend in the living room (and often the bedroom, kitchen and family room) lies shattered. The friend on whom millions of viewers depended for a constant fix of news, sport and entertainment was, it now turns out, dipping its hand in their pockets with the dexterity of a loan shark.

It has to be said that the PR so far has not all been impressive. The original exposure of Richard and Judy gave the impression of a playground full of recalcitrants - production company, broadcaster and phone operator - pointing the finger of blame at their mates.

The Blue Peter error was met with a rapid on-screen apology that had all the hallmarks of ‘here's one we made earlier just in case anyone rumbled us'.

Meanwhile, the viewers are left wondering which, if any, programme or broadcaster they can trust. Who will be next? Surely not Songs of Praise?

Presenters' reputations have also taken a battering. Richard and Judy are rightly loved as a broadcasting institution, but now require PR surgery on their public faces. In the circumstances, was it really wise for Richard to be pictured in the tabloids in clenched-fist pose demonstrating just what he would like to do to his daughter's muggers? Does he, viewers may well ask, advocate the same tough justice for those behind the TV phoneline ripoff?

The PR presentation around the ultimate findings of inquiries by bodies such as Ofcom will have to demonstrate real teeth. Viewers have little knowledge of these organisations and will not easily be convinced of their worth. If PR fails to convince them, TV may never recover.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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