Years ago, I entered a Daily Mirror Back To The Future competition. The prize included a pair of tickets to see the film and a bodywarmer jacket with the Back To The Future logo on it. I filled in my postcard (you had to in those days. None of this premium phone number/red button malarky), sent it off and forgot all about it. Until I won. Me, the girl who never wins anything, I won! I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy, it was such a great thrill. But that was then and this is now; the innocence of those days is long gone.
Back in the late 1990s when I was working in radio, a friend of mine religously purchased a certain newspaper specifically for their competition regularly offering brand new flats as prizes. It was a token-based promotion and she entered each and every time they ran it. "Have you even thought about how easy it might be to influence the outcome?" I said during her fourth try. Puzzled, she asked what I meant. "Well, say you’re the person at the other end, unless stringent measures are in place, what’s to stop you from ensuring your friends, family or associates win?" I said. "If the winner isn’t chosen in public…you do the maths." She stopped buying the newspaper and ripped the tokens from the department copy instead.
That’s why, when the string of TV phone-in/vote-in blunders and premium rate scandals first became public knowledge, I didn’t bat an eyelid. As far as I’m concerned, it was a racket waiting to be exposed. What I didn’t anticipate was the scale and depth of it. So far we have: Blue Peter fined £50,000 by media watchdog Ofcom after a child posed as a phone-in competition winner; GMTV fined a record £2m by Ofcom because callers to its premium rate competitions had no chance of winning; ITV dropping the British Comedy Awards after reportedly finding irregularities with phone voting on the 2005 show; X Factor overcharging viewers for votes cast via the red button in its most recent series; ITV1’s Dancing on Ice final not processing thousands of votes properly because of a "technical problem" at the Vodafone network; ITV’s phone-in quiz channel ITV Play scrapped after some of its premium-rate competitions were exposed for asking questions almost impossible to answer; Richard and Judy’s You Say, We Pay competition under fire because thousands of viewers called a premium-rate number after contestants had already been chosen; Five fined £300,000 for faking winners on its Brainteaser quiz show (it was found to have broken the Ofcom code five times, including one instance where a crew member posed as a "winning contestant").
Not only is that lot the tip of the iceberg, there wil be more to come. I’d bet my house on it. It’s long been my policy never to enter a competition that required me to pay a premium-rate for the privilege of doing so. Why should I? Those costs should be met by the promoter as far as I’m concerned. I never press that ‘red button’ on my remote either (unless it’s free). Then again, it’s easy for me to say; I’m not in a desperate financial situation, I don’t care who gets voted off certain reality/talent shows and I’m also suspicious by nature. Ergo, I wasn’t suckered in. But millions of trusting people were.
A long-awaited review into some ITV practices found "serious editorial issues" in Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Ant and Dec’s Gameshow Marathon and Soapstar Superstar. ITV’s chairman Michael Grade has promised a comprehensive scheme to reimburse affected viewers. He said he knew the report would make "deeply uncomfortable reading" and admitted: "My overall conclusion from the review is that there was a serious cultural failing within ITV." No Michael. The failing is, quite possibly, media-wide. Personally, I won’t be voting and I won’t be calling. Instead, I’ll look out for these immortal words: ‘answers on a postcard please’.
Are you still going to enter premium-rate competitions? Will you be voting to keep your favourites in on various reality/talent shows? Let me know by adding a comment below.
Today I am mostly lovin’ – The Queer As Folk repeats on More4. Great show. And how skinny was Coronation Street’s Antony Cotton back then?
Today I am mostly hatin’ – UKTV Gold for taking Dallas off weekdays again. Cliff’s in a coma UKTV Gold! You people have rotten timing.
MSN Editor Coops