NB: THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT: BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.
TV's Dirty Secrets
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE
JEREMY VINE: Good evening, I'm Jeremy Vine and this is Panorama.
JUDY FINNIGAN: It seems some callers have not been properly entered into the competition. We're very sorry, really.
RICHARD MADELEY : Obviously...
VINE: Top shows forced to say sorry to their viewers. Even children's favourite Blue Peter admits to faking a winner. Now we reveal problems with the popular breakfast show GMTV.
FIONA PHILLIPS: GMTV knew nothing of this and is shocked to hear of these allegations.
VINE: It's been unwittingly involved in fleecing viewers to the tune of millions of pounds a year.
GREG DYKE: If the evidence is right then GMTV has got to do something and do something fast.
VINE: Television has been home to some great exposés, many of them on this programme. But now broadcasters are getting a taste of their own medicine, accused of rip offs, rigged competitions and a massive breach of trust with viewers. Calls to shows are down and no wonder. Everything we've uncovered suggests you should think twice before you pick up that phone.
TV's Dirty Secrets
Reporter: Declan Lawn
LAWN: In the last two years a completely new genre of television has emerged. It came from satellite obscurely into the mainstream. It's a kind of television that doesn't just want your attention, it wants your money.
QUIZ PRESENTER: That is worth making that £1 call. Call now. Call now!
LAWN: MPs and broadcasting watchdogs say that some of the questions and answers on this late night quiz TV can be too obscure and just unfair. Now test yourself with this little gem. Find the animal in this grid.
QUIZ PRESENTER: For £2,000 what animal do you think? May I have your answer sir?
CALLER: A vole. V-o-l-e.
QUIZ PRESENTER: Is he right? No, he's not. I'll tell you what, we are going to have to reveal... open it and see what it is. The answer was.. we were looking for - a tuna!
LAWN: Hang on - a tuna?! Where's the 'U' in that grid? Oh well, never mind. Next question.
QUIZ PRESENTER: We're looking for jobs beginning with 'A'.
LAWN: Architect maybe?
CALLER: Airline host.
QUIZ PRESENTER: Airline host / ess, or host - No. Answer: ankle beater! Ow!
LAWN: Ankle beater:- dictionary definition, a young boy who drives cattle to market. It seems the late night phone in quiz industry has some difficult questions of its own to answer. To the casual late night viewer it might all seem like a bit of fun for 60-75 pence a pop. But we went to meet a former quiz television director. He says that on a number of smaller satellite quiz channels anything goes.
Former Call TV Director
The practices I've seen across the board range from what one would call sharp practice up to what one would maybe describe as fraud.
LAWN: He says that sometimes not even the winners are real.
HOLMES: A researcher or a runner would go out of the gallery to the production office. The phone operator would then phone that person's phone and then that prize would be given away as if to a real person whereas in fact it is someone working for the channel, and I have seen that in multiple places.
LAWN: So winners were faked?
HOLMES: Because you don't want to give away the money, it also gives the impression that people are winning prizes.
LAWN: The call in quiz shows are irresistible to millions of viewers.
Editor-in-Chief, Media Guardian
The business of grabbing attention and consequently making money has become much more cutthroat, and viewers have just become commodities. They are just consumers who need to have every ounce of cash extracted from them for the few minutes that they're with you.
HOLMES: But generally the attitude was that the public who were phoning in were stupid, that if people are silly enough to enter these games then they deserve to lose their money.
LAWN: They deserve what they get?
HOLMES: Yeah. Which is bad.
WOMAN: I came home one night a little merry and I decided to turn on the television.
MAN: In the space of an hour I made a 100 calls and that was bye and bye £63.
WOMAN: Rang them, didn't get through to anyone. Decided to keep ringing and hanging up, ringing and hanging up.
WOMAN: It didn't take me long to work out that if I had a correct answer they would fob me off by saying they were having technical difficulties, yet they'd still be encouraging other viewers to call in.
WOMAN: I didn't realise at the time it was costing me 75p just for the connection of the call. Got my phone bill. It was £84!
LAWN: With TV advertising money in a downward spiral, even mainstream broadcasters have been unable to resist the potential riches of quiz phone. ITV one switches to its quiz brand ITV Play late at night. Even so, in the first six months of its operation ITV Play made nine million pounds. Since last March its given away over eight million pounds to 20,000 winners. On air 37 hours a week ITV Play has in the past attracted up to a 100,000 callers an hour at up to 75 pence a time. As quiz TV goes, ITV Play is big.
QUIZ PRESENTER: Eight and six already there, we need one digit to be a score. What are you going for?
LAWN: ITV Play claims to be this kind of television better than the rest and completely above board. It says its guiding principle is fairness and honesty, but even here we've been told how viewers are manipulated in order to keep the phone lines buzzing. We've talked to three producers who've all made programmes broadcast by ITV Play within the last year. They want to remain anonymous because they fear for their careers. But all three have told us that audiences are regularly duped. Convincing they're just a phone call away from easy money is the name of the game.
ANONYMOUS PRODUCER: People aren't going to ring up if they know that 20,000 other people are ringing up because they know that there's even less chance of them getting through. You have to make them believe that they're the only person watching, that they know the answer and that this fantastical amount of money will be in their account within a week.
LAWN: Though the phone lines might be heaving, the producers can paint a very different picture for viewers.
ANONYMOUS PRODUCER: You can see that all the calls are coming in. They're all biting. We've got to maintain these calls coming in. In fact, I want to increase it. So what I'll do is, I'll get the presenter to keep saying: "Where are my callers? Where are my callers? I can't believe nobody is calling!"
LAWN: If viewers believe no one else is calling, more of them are tempted to pick up that phone. It's a tactic which is known to work well.
ANONYMOUS PRODUCER: They'd have no concept that at any given time, in my experience, it was up to 11,000 callers a minute calling through.
LAWN: ITV Play said that its takes a position of responsibility very seriously and that it's developing a suitable method of communicating call volume to viewers. Last year Greg Dyke headed up an unsuccessful bid to buy ITV. The money these shows bring in may be impressive but he's definitely no fan.
GREG DYKE: I think the night time service is a joke. It obviously came about on ITV because it's very profitable, but it feels so tacky.
LAWN: Do you think it could damage the brand?
BBC Director General, 2000-04
Oh I think it has damaged the brand. It's so bad and it's so blatant. I mean it's as close as you're going to get to stealing from the poor really.
WOMAN: I've played TV quiz shows for just over three weeks, and in that three weeks I racked up a telephone bill of over £350.
MAN: I must have phoned 50 or 60 times. I did not get through once and I was unaware that every time I rang I was being charged 25p for it.
WOMAN: I think quiz TV shows should be banned.
LAWN: So, who's looking out for the viewer? It's the joint responsibility of ICSTIS who regulate the premium rate phone lines and Ofcom, the broadcasting regulator. We spoke to Ofcom about whether they think it's acceptable for TV to directly earn money from its viewers in this way.
If a member of your family or a friend wanted to call up a late night quiz TV show would you say: "Go ahead, that's fine." ?
I would say: "Go ahead."
LAWN: Would you?
SUTER: I would.
LAWN: Would you call yourself?
SUTER: I never have but that's not a reason not to.
LAWN: But you're confident that everything is AOK?
SUTER: I am confident that broadcasters are fully aware now of what they need to do. Does that mean there are no problems? I very much doubt that it doesn't mean that there are any problems.
LAWN: If you want to see a really big problem you'll have to get up pretty early in the morning.
PRESENTER: Which celebrity couple got married in 2006? A) Madonna....
LAWN: For GMTV competitions are big business. The show takes tens of thousands of calls every day and they cost well over a pound a time.
PRESENTER: Lines close at 9. The winner is going to have a great start to the weekend.
LAWN: The phone calls are handled by a firm called Opera Interactive Technology Group. Opera's job is to select a short list of around 20 potential winners from tens of thousands that enter every morning, then send this list to GMTV so they can pick the overall winner from a hat.
PRESENTER: Julie Whittaker from West Yorkshire! You're off to Sardinia!
LAWN: Panorama has discovered there's a serious problem with this process. A problem that has defrauded millions of viewers out of their money over a period of 4 years. These documents from the firm Opera date back to 2003 and they refer to a competition that was run on GMTV on the 20th May that year. It was the very first time that Opera picked the winner's shortlist for a GMTV competition.
PRESENTER: We're giving you the chance to win a brand new Mitsubishi Space Wagon. It comes with air conditioning alloy....
LAWN: Viewers had the rest of the day to call up.
PRESENTER: The lines are open until midnight tonight so good luck and....
LAWN: But right from the start Opera cut corners. Lines may have closed at midnight but according to an email within this information the winners were chosen an hour before that at 11pm. So anyone calling in within that last hour had no chance.
PRESENTER: When you go on holiday it's always good to get out and about and...
LAWN: But it wasn't just a one off. Two weeks later and Opera were still at it, this time picking the winners three hours before the midnight deadline.
PRESENTER: Lines are open until midnight tonight so the very best of luck and get dialling and I'll be seeing you around.
ANDREW CASTLE: Yeah, good job, lines closing at midnight on that. Have a go, win a trip to Sardinia up for grabs.
LAWN: GMTV says it didn't know the shortlists were being closed whilst its viewers were still paying to enter its competitions. But did Opera management know, and if so, for how long. We've learnt that their attention was drawn to it the day after the very first phone in contest run by Opera. One of those responsible for running the GMTV quizzes was Opera manager Mark Nuttall. On the 21st of May 2003 he got an internal email making it crystal clear the shortlist had been drawn up before the close of that day's competition. So did he order his team to stop the practice immediately? Did he tell GMTV about it? No. Presumably knowing that it could be disastrous if GMTV found out, Mark Nuttall sent a one line response to his team. He said: "Make sure they never find out you're picking the winners early." He copied that email to his boss, the owner of the company Gary Corbett.
GREG DYKE: I mean that implies that GMTV did have processes.. that did have a system, because what this guy is saying is don't ever tell 'em that we're breaking their processes. Well if I was GMTV at that moment, I'd go nuts.
LAWN: In 2005 things got far worse. In May GMTV decided that all of their competitions would now close at 9am whilst the show was still on air. From this point on Opera perpetrated a massive and systematic fraud against GMTV's viewers. We've seen information which shows the times that Opera finalised the GMTV winners shortlist every day for the last four years. It shows that Opera consistently finalised the shortlist before GMTV's phone lines had closed.
WOMAN: We're watching the programme, we're phoning in, we're giving them our money. How dare they? It's not right.
MAN: I mean, if I sell you a raffle ticket you'd expect that raffle will go into the hat along with everybody else's and you'll get as good a chance as everybody else that yours is drawn out.
WOMAN: I feel robbed, as if I've just opened the window and thrown my money out.
PRESENTER: Now, this Valentine's week we are giving you and your partner the chance to jet off for the romantic holiday of a lifetime.
LAWN: Take February 16th this year as an example of how bad things became. We've seen information showing that the shortlist of winners was finalised less than half way through this show, not that viewers would have known.
TEXT A, B or C to 81149
Cost £1 plus usual tariff
PRESENTER: Lines close at 9 so get down.
PRESENTER: Those lines close in nearly half an hour so you need to enter pronto!
PRESENTER: Lines close at 9 so get down.
PRESENTER: Those lines close in 15 minutes, we're going to pick a winner shortly after that.
PRESENTER: Ah yes, the winner is in here with all the other entries that have been selected at random. Kate, if you'd like to have a pick.
LAWN: To have had any chance of getting in the hat, you'd have had to call well within the first half of the quiz. GMTV says it didn't know the bulk of potential contestants on this day were each paying up to £1.80 for the privilege of entering a competition that had already closed, and our information shows the pattern goes back for years.
We took our evidence to a barrister who specialises in fraud cases. His opinion was that this was fraud, plain and simple. So how big a fraud? Well let's take a day at random: 75,000 viewers entered on this day generating £110,000. If the shortlist of names was picked before the show was half over, that's half that figure. That's a fraud of £55,000 taken from people who had no chance of winning on that day. Now if that went on for a week, that would be £275,000, and if that's the case over a month, you're looking at 1.1 million pounds. If so over a year you could be looking at a whopping 13.2 million pounds. Could this be TVs dirtiest secret? We put our allegations to Opera. They said they were investigating. This evening GMTV sacked Opera and in a statement to Panorama they said:
"The Panorama investigation has uncovered certain irregularities in the way Opera has been managing GMTV interactive services in the past. GMTV was not aware of these irregularities."
LAWN: It went on to say:
"While we believe that we do comply now, we are putting in further control measures to ensure compliance is maintained."
MAN: If they say the competition runs from 9 o'clock I'd expect to be entered into that competition up until 9 o'clock. I've been cheated.
WOMAN: Who is benefiting by it? Obviously somebody is but it certainly isn't us.
WOMAN: Over the years I can't even begin to think how much money I've spent on these competitions and perhaps it would be nice if they'd like to refund the money.
LAWN: Since we started this investigation Ofcom has announced its launched a formal investigation into a complaint involving GMTV and Opera.
JOHN WHITTINGDALE MP
Chair, Media Select Committee
I think the regulators should have stepped in much earlier. I think the fact that these abuses are only now being uncovered does demonstrate that this has been going on for some time and not enough attention was paid to it.
LAWN: Do we need tougher regulation across the board?
We need the regulation that we've got and we need broadcasters to enforce it for themselves and they need to take action when we enforce it too. I'm confident that the rules are there.
LAWN: This is the moment the nation's favourite children's show broke faith with its audience.
BBC1 27 November 2006
These shoes belong to the follow: A) Is it Bradley from EastEnders; is it B) Boyd from Neighbours; or is it C) Sam from Casualty?
LAWN: It costs 10p a time for children to ring his live Blue Peter competition and 13,000 of them did, but behind the scenes there was chaos. The telephone call handling system broke down.
PRESENTER: (jokes) Have we been cut off? Who paid the phone bill last? Did you pay it?
LAWN: The staff on the floor needed a solution and quickly. A young girl visiting the studio was taken aside, handed a mobile phone by the BBC and told she was about to become a Blue Peter competition winner. The presenters didn't know they were ringing a child who was in a room just 20 feet away.
PRESENTER: Hello, hello.
PRESENTER: How you doing?
GIRL: I'm fine thank you.
LAWN: Sally and Peter Eades were amongst a group of parents and children visiting Blue Peter and saw the girl being chosen as the competition winner.
Most of the children I was with said.. you know: "How did she get picked? What's so different, you know, how can that be fair?" I thought for a second, you know, maybe this isn't right. But obviously it had happened.
PRESENTER: Who's shoes do you think these are?
PRESENTER: You're absolutely right. Hurraaaaay.
I said to my son, there's got to be a reason for this. You know, she cannot be winning that prize. Something's gone wrong. You know, there's got to be a reason for it.
Editor-in-Chief, Media Guardian
There doesn't seem to be a blue chip programme brand on British television that hasn't been smeared in some way. And once you see Blue Peter dragged in, well.. you know, it's the end of the world.
LAWN: What went wrong on Blue Peter? What happened?
BBC Director General
There was a technical problem which means that the phone calls for a particular competition couldn't get through and a decision was taken on the spur of the moment and with a.. frankly a misguided attempt as it were to keep the programme on the air, to do something to pretend that the competition had worked fine.
SALLY EADES: I just found it extremely sad that the only mistake they made was not trusting the children enough to let them know something had gone wrong. You know, if they'd have put their hands up there and then and perhaps rearranged picking of the prize until the next programme, it would have been over and done with.
LAWN: Blue Peter website later blamed a serious error of judgement by a junior member of staff, but we've been told that soon after the programme finished, Blue Peter's Editor, Richard Martin, knew what had happened. At the time he was furious but we understand he didn't report it upwards and that at a production meeting three days later he commended the staff member responsible for their initiative.
The evidence we've got, broadly speaking, points to an error that went much higher than the BBC has admitted so far, and..
MARK THOMPSON: What I've said to you is I've never regarded this as just a question about the specific moment of choosing the child in a the studio audience. We have to look at the context in which that happened and have to look at the issue of communication and editorial management across the programme and between the programme and senior management.
LAWN: If it was a couple of junior members of staff who dug a hole for Blue Peter, then the BBC just seemed to keep on digging. The offending show was repeated later the same evening with the phone number still prominently displayed on the screen. So another 3 ½ thousand children called in to a competition that was not only fixed, but that was also long over - whoops!
JANINE GIBSON: Clearly what happened was just a catalogue of really unfortunate incidences, but what it does show you is how far a sort of culture of disrespect to the viewer has come. Nobody's first priority anymore is doing something that's fair and right and proper to the viewer. Everybody's first priority is the telly.. you know, making a programme that works.
LAWN: Saturday Kitchen worked very well on BBC1 as a live show. Unfortunately it wasn't always live.
PRESENTER: Now it's great to have him on Saturday Kitchen. It's Eamonn Holmes....
LAWN: In every edition viewers were invited to call in again and again at either 10 or 25 pence a go to vote or take part in a phone in. On the pre-recorded shows the production company Cactus TV went to a good deal of effort to make viewers think they could interact live with what they were seeing.
PRESENTER: So to vote either heaven or hell just call 090 44314431....
LAWN: The deception came to light when one viewer spotted the presenter Eamonn Homes was apparently broadcasting live simultaneously on both Saturday Kitchen and Radio 5 Live.
EAMONN HOMES: What a sporting weekend it is here with me Eamonn Homes, 9 o'clock, good morning to you....
MARK THOMPSON: Clearly there were mistakes made in Saturday Kitchen. It's a programme which, from now on, will always be live.
LAWN: Despite this, the BBC remains committed to TV phone-ins for viewers.
People are already paying for the BBC. Why should they have to fork out more to interact with their favourite shows?
THOMPSON: Firstly the BBC doesn't use phone lines to make money. Knowing that there are many programmes where audiences like to interact. It seems fairer to do it through a charge levied on those who use the phone.. you know, using the licence fee which everyone pays whether they use the phone or not.
LAWN: Nobody involved in the making of Saturday Kitchen, including the production company Cactus, made money from the phone-ins. It all went to charity. But Cactus did produce another show in which the phone-in was a real money spinner and that's where TV's dirty secrets first surfaced back in February.
JUDY: Many of you will have read over the weekend and today that some problems have come to light with the "You Say, We Pay" competition. It seems some callers have not been properly entered into the competition.
LAWN: This is the nation's favourite TV couple apologising for yet another competition in which winners were picked before phone lines closed. It's called "You Say, We Pay." And since 2004 it's generated three and a half million pounds from callers. You Say, We Pay charge viewers a pound a go to try to get through to Richard and Judy in the studio. In February it emerged that just like with GMTV lots of them never had a chance of winning because the shortlist was drawn up before the phone lines closed. Channel 4 admits that the problem goes back to last summer but says it's still investigating whether it may go back even further. Maybe we can help.
We've got details of how and when the winners were chosen dating back to January 2005. They show that even then a large number of callers had no chance of winning. Now that is a full 18 months before Channel 4 is currently willing to admit the problem began.
So, who knew? The phone provider, Echo, admits it did know of the problem and says it emailed Cactus in January with a warning and again when it got no reply. Cactus says it didn't know. It claims Echo assured Cactus staff in January the way they pick the winner was within the rules. But ex-employees tell us some staff at Cactus did know there was a problem. Richard and Judy say they didn't know and there's no evidence that they did. And Channel 4 says it didn't know either.
JOHN WHITTINGTON MP
Chair, Media Select Committee
The problem in this area is that the broadcasters often deploy production companies to run the competitions for them, and so haven't been in direct control. That doesn't excuse the broadcasters.
LAWN: We've seen the figures for a three week period earlier this year and found that some days around 40% of callers had no chance of winning. Again we asked a barrister who is an expert in criminal fraud what he thought of this evidence. His opinion was clear. He said there was a prima facia case of fraud that requires further investigation by the police, or, to put it another way, this was a con upon an unsuspecting public.
MAN: I wrote to ICSTIS on the 10th June 2005 about the Richard and Judy quiz show. They took six weeks to reply and the gist of their letter was they didn't want to know.
MAN: Very angry. The money I spent on those phone calls has been taken off me under false pretences.
WOMAN: You don't realise it but the phone calls add up. You don't really think about how much you're spending.
MAN: I'm a bit disillusioned, well with competitions altogether really.
WOMAN: We need to know how players are chosen, when they're chosen, why they're chosen. We just need to know how it all works.
LAWN: Some broadcasters just make programmes, others make profits too, but all of them trade on trust, and it seems for now that's a currency in short supply.
VINE: Declan Lawn reporting there and official figures suggest more than 100 million pounds a year is being raised by interactive TV from its viewers. If you're a viewer and you think you've been ripped off you can go to our website for advice - that's free by the way. If you work in the industry and you have a story to tell we'd love to hear from you.
Next week - murder at the World Cup. We report from inside the investigation into Bob Woolmer's death and how illegal betting has cast a shadow of suspicion over cricket.