REP CHECK: ITV dons flak-jacket in vote scandal

With ITV bearing the brunt of recent phone-voting allegations, PRWeek asks if the public have lost faith in its interactive services.

Some of the UK’s most popular TV shows have been accused of encouraging viewers to take part in competitions that were apparently rigged.

The first three programmes to make the news were the BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, Channel 4’s Richard and Judy, and ITV’s X-Factor.

Since then, journalists have been swarming all over any programme with an element of audience participation. Even the BBC’s Blue Peter was censured for ‘rigging’ a phone-in competition.

Under pressure

But ITV has undoubtedly faced the most scrutiny. Soapstar Superstar, I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? have all had their reputations tarnished.

Meanwhile, the broadcaster’s quiz channel, ITV Play, was taken off air – albeit temporarily.

ITV swung into action and called in Deloitte to conduct an independent review of its use of premium-rate phone and interactive services. As well as current shows, Deloitte was told to assess output since 2005.

The full results of the review will be published soon, and ITV’s heavyweight comms team (PRWeek, 9 March) is planning to use it to demonstrate the transparency of current interactive services.

However, PRWeek’s latest Reputation Check survey shows that over 93 per cent of the population does think that ITV’s reputation has been damaged. PRWeek asked a national journalist and entertainment PR man to assess how ITV can rebuild confidence (see below).

Analysis 1: the PR practitioner’s view

James Herring, joint managing director, Taylor Herring PR: ‘Mistakes happen. How a company responds has the biggest impact on corporate reputation. Some of ITV’s biggest shows have been implicated, guaran­teeing negative exposure regardless of what is discovered by Deloitte’s independent review. But many commentators have commended ITV’s rapid and thorough response.

‘When the story broke, ITV took decisive and immediate action to demonstrate how seriously it took the issue of public trust. So despite the furore, viewer voting on last Saturday’s Dancing on Ice was much higher than the previous week.

‘The story has moved on rapidly and pretty much every broadcaster in the UK has now been implicated in some form of phone-oriented scandal. Most of these incidents now appear to have been cock-ups rather than cons, but the intense media scrutiny is driving a re-appraisal of industry best practice.

‘ITV has made the most of a head start on reacting to this scenario, and its press office has done well to draw the fire away from its programme-making colleagues.’

Analysis 2: the national journalist’s view

Ian Burrell, media editor, The Independent: ‘Britain’s red-top newspapers and mass-market broadcasters enjoy a symbiotic relationship.

‘So The Sun’s 6 March issue was about as grim as it gets for ITV1 – a triple-whammy of pages attacking the flawed phone-voting systems used on three of its most-loved shows – I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, X-Factor and Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.

‘It would be difficult to overstate the damage inflicted on such a British institution, the UK’s biggest commercial broadcaster. In spite of falling ratings, ITV’s flagship channel still has a huge audience that tunes in as if meeting up with a old friend – one that has now made off with its purse. Even CEO Clive Jones, when given a Royal Television Society gold award last Tues­day, used the occasion to berate the reliance on phone revenues.

‘For ITV as a whole, it is a tragedy, blighting those few green shoots of fresh programming that were just starting to be noticed. The only consolation has been Michael Grade’s swift intervention and the fact that other broadcasters have been similarly exposed. To ITV’s relief, the BBC’s Blue Peter has sailed into the row and drawn some of the fire of the tabloid cannons.’

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