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ITV phone-ins took £7.8m under false pretences

Michael Grade's promise that there would be "zero tolerance" of malpractice on ITV was looking hollow last night, as it emerged that managers responsible for a "serious cultural failure" over phone-ins that led to £7.8m being taken from viewers under false pretences will keep their jobs.

An audit report by the city firm Deloitte investigated 60 ITV shows, and uncovered "serious editorial issues" in three. They included Soapstar Superstar, in which 10 soap stars competed in a song contest, with viewers being encouraged to vote.

At the end of the first episode, Verity Rushworth, from Emmerdale, and Leon Lopez, from Hollyoaks, came ninth and 10th, and should have been put up for eviction. Instead the producers put forward Jane Danson and Tupele Dorgu, both from Coronation Street, pretending that they had taken the last two places. Danson, who had come seventh, was unfairly evicted.

Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway was also criticised because it featured a competition in which contestants had to ride a mechanical pig, on a different location each week, and the winner was supposedly chosen at random. In fact, researchers shortlisted all contestants, eliminating anyone who lived more than an hour's journey from the contest, and chose the winner in advance.

Winners of the "Prize Mountain" in Ant and Dec's Gameshow Marathon in 2004 were also selected in advance, while the pretence was maintained that they were chosen at random.

The report also revealed "technical issues" around red-button voting and text messaging. Nearly one in seven of the votes cast in the final of The X Factor contest in 2005 were received too late to be included. The same happened with 11,500 votes in the 2007 Dancing on Ice competition – though neither problem affected the results.

ITV said it expected that it would cost £18m to clean up its procedures, including £7.8m in refunds to viewers who had no chance of winning competitions.

Mr Grade, ITV's executive chairman, defended his decision not to demand any resignations, because the staff concerned had been motivated by a wish to produce lively programmes.

"I am also on the record as saying that I take a zero-tolerance stance, and that means not tolerating a culture that condones audiences being deliberately misled, or not getting the service they have been offered," he said. "In some instances there has been disciplinary action, but I don't intend to take a couple of token scalps in expiation."

Belfast Telegraph


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