Secrets, lies and broadcasting

While television broadcasters attempt to put recent scandals behind them, research shows that viewers have lost faith in the integrity of the medium and are not yet ready to forgive and forget

New rules tightening the regulation of television and radio programmes that rely heavily on premium-rate telephone services were proposed by media regulator Ofcom earlier this month as the broadcast industry aimed to put a shambolic year behind it. Ofcom launched the consultation – its second on the subject in less than a year – following a string of scandals involving hit shows such as Richard & Judy, Quiz Call, Blue Peter and I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!Anecdotally, broadcasters have suggested that despite months of media revelations and clampdowns on the number and type of services offered, viewers still want interaction. However, research carried out this month by online permission-based data collection and entertainment company PDV, shows a different picture. Although the stories have dried up from the national press, the deceptions have lingered in viewers’ minds, undermining their trust in not only the shows involved, but also in the honesty of broadcast ads and the unbiased nature of its news.

The research suggests that the deceptions have seriously undermined the broadcast medium’s reputation for honesty. The trust of both those viewers and listeners who participated in TV phone-ins and those who did not has been shaken, and not only in the shows and TV companies directly concerned.

All but 2% of the 2,128 respondents had heard about the scams. Those who had were asked for their reaction to the phone-in deceptions unmasked last year. The revelations involved popular shows such as X-Factor (which charged voters for calls made after winners had already been selected), household-name programmes such as Richard & Judy (which was forced to apologise for similar deceits) and children’s show Blue Peter (which ignored the results of a children’s vote to name a kitten).

When such stories came to light, 72% of previous contestants (comprising 42% of respondents) stopped taking part. A year later, a third (35%) say they will probably stop participating completely and a further 17% say they will participate less often.

The majority of viewers polled (41%) no longer trust the TV and radio stations involved in the scandal to honestly report the results of telephone votes, and a further 32% are no longer sure that they do – meaning only 27% have retained their trust in these brands. And only 36% say they now trust similar shows, with 32% believing they cannot be trusted, and the same percentage unsure about their trustworthiness.

Two-thirds (66%) felt “the revelations have permanently damaged the reputation of the shows and programmes concerned” and only 20% felt no permanent damage had been done. A slightly larger percentage, 67%, felt the TV companies had been damaged and only 19% disagreed.

More than a third (35%) of those who participated in competitions before the deceptions were unmasked had voted in response to X-Factor; 16% to GMTV phone-ins; 15% to Deal of the Day; 11% to Richard and Judy; 9% to Saturday night takeaway; and 4% to Soapstar Superstar.

The majority of competitors (45%) spent between £1 and £5 on their phone calls, 9% spent between £11 and £50, 1% spent more than £100, 24% spent less than £1 and 18% spent between £6 and £10. Only 4% applied to get money back, but the majority (64%) were unsure whether the recompense offered by the TV stations was reasonable and only 13% felt it was not.

PDV chairman Derick Hill says: “The fact that most people didn’t even apply to get their money back shows that it was not the biggest issue for them, and the chance of recompense had little impact on people’s opinion, which was already fixed.”

Interestingly, opinions on the honestly of broadcast news and advertising, pre and post-scam, are the most revealing. 47% of viewers and listeners felt TV and radio ads were not honest and trustworthy, and 15% said they’d revised their opinion after the voting scams were uncovered.”

The majority (46%) are just as confident about buying products advertised by TV and radio as in print, but a fifth are not and 35% are unsure. And 13% of the total revised their views after the revelations.

Although 62% continue to believe that the editorial content of newspapers and magazines is no more trustworthy than that of the broadcast medium, 14% think it is and a quarter (24%) aren’t sure. 12% revised their opinion after the scams.

Two-fifths of viewers continue to believe radio and TV reports news in an unbiased way, but almost as many (38%) don’t and 22% aren’t sure. A fifth (21%) said they’d revised their opinion after the revelations.

TV may be putting its house in order, but at what cost? The research shows that even a year on, viewers have not forgotten and some have not forgiven. Around a sixth of viewers revised their opinion of the broadcast medium as a whole after the scams, judging it to be less trustworthy, honest and unbiased then they had previously thought.

The popularity of programmes including Dancing On Ice, X-Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, show there is still a thirst for such shows, while the quiz channels and programming strands have all but been axed.

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