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Monday, October 22, 2007 

They took 7.8 million of YOUR MONEY and who do we blame? Err, no one.

Back a little later than I expected, so I'll get back into the swing of things properly tomorrow. First, if like me you missed FCC's dissections of tabloid garbage, his posts last week following the government's publishing of its own report into immigration (PDF) are essential reading.

Next, here's a scandal that it seems wasn't. The report by Deloitte into ITV's various phone-in scams discovers that at least £7.8 million was defrauded from viewers who had no chance of winning competitions or influencing public votes. Peter Hain described it as "daylight robbery". One of the most egregious examples of how money was taken under false pretenses was on Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, where those who weren't within an hour of where the show was filmed or suitably excited/telegenic/charismatic never had any chance of winning, which also has Ant and Dec (or is it Dec and Ant?) as executive producers. Like Manuel, they "knew nothing". Despite Michael Grade's previous bowel movement which declared that there would be "zero tolerance" towards any examples of fakery or deception of viewers, no one has resigned, and it seems likely that no one will be sacked, as Grade has now decided there shouldn't be a "witch-hunt". ITV have said that the money will be paid back, while Ant and Dec have promised that the money from the phone-ins on the next series will be given to charity. Never mind that Richard and Judy's attempts at giving the money fraudulently made back were far from successful: the problem has been solved.

Or at least that's the message that the middle-market tabloids have given off. While the Daily Mirror was the only one of the tabloids to give it a full-splash on Friday (the Sun cleared the front page to go with the suicide bombing targeting Benzair Bhutto in its final edition, previously having the ITV scandal in a sidebar, then featured it again the following day, again in a sidebar), the Mail had more important things on its mind, like the ring that Dodi never gave to Diana prior to them both coming to a sticky end. (Oh, and a suitably fruity photograph of the tennis coach who sexually assaulted a 13-year-old girl. She "seduced" her; you can imagine what the Mail would say if it was a man in the same circumstances.) The Express isn't worth even looking at: Madeleine, where there hasn't been any new developments for weeks, still occupied the front page every single day.

How very different to the Mail's coverage of the BBC's own recent travails. When the BBC published its own findings into examples of fakery, none of which involved any defrauding of the viewer, but did involve some slight deceptions, the Mail declared it the "SHAMING OF THE BBC". After Blue Peter admitted that Socks the cat should have been named Cookie, only for it to be changed after they wondered about the suitability of the name, the Mail splashed with it, screaming "NEW LIES FIASCO SHAMES THE BBC". On the very day that the ITV report was the published, the Mail was shattering windows with its shrieking of "BBC TO SCREEN MORE REPEATS", despite for years calling for the BBC to be radically slashed and cut down to size. The Mail had previously splashed on one example of ITV alleged "fakery", that involving the death of a man in a documentary which it turned out wasn't, but that was during the silly season.

Just how do we explain this apparent attitude to ignore ITV's far more serious offences, which may well amount to fraud and definitely show a contempt for their very viewers? It can't be put down to the fact that the BBC is funded by every single one of us; ITV was taking the money off the public too. Is it just snobbery on the behalf of the Mail, thinking that its readers' won't have "wasted" their cash on such frivolities? If it is, this is incredibly blind: those who buy the paper might not have done, but their children are a different matter. Far more likely is that the Mail fears the effects of what a purge might well mean to newspapers themselves if they were held up to the same degree of scrutiny.

You don't have to read this blog or FCC to know that the tabloids lie on a daily basis; polls have consistently shown that the public holds around the same amount of trust in tabloid journalists as they do with estate agents, lower even than that in politicians. How often do journalists get the sack for getting it wrong? Apart from Andrew Gilligan, who ironically was completely in the right, you'll be hard pressed to find any such examples in recent memory or even history. If ITV were to go by the letter of zero tolerance, as Grade said, it would set a precedent also in the City itself. So far, just one member of the board of Northern Rock has resigned. No one at ITV has, or seems to be likely to. At the BBC, the Blue Peter editor's gone, as have others involved in the various bits of fakery. It's a weird scale when you add it all up: you can play naive, economically unsound games with the money of thousands of people and not have to face the consequences when it all goes wrong; you can defraud the public and cynically take their cash when they have no chance of appearing with Ant and Dec; but if you change the name of a cat that kiddies have voted for the name of, then you may as well hand in your notice straight away. So is the logic not just of media and their decision on what constitutes an outrage, but that of the market itself.

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"It can't be put down to the fact that the BBC is funded by every single one of us"

Well in a sense it can, in that we were in effect paying the BBC to lie to us whereas ITV were doing it for 'free'. Different psychological regard; think of the phrase "Adding insult to injury"

but to paraphrase Grade: 'No one mislead or did anything wrong out of greed, but to make a better programme.'
So his staff think better programmes are more important than a bit of integrity or giving the public what they have paid for?

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