The vexed and controversial topic of broadcast voting is back in the news again. The Sun on Sunday ran a two page story on 29 July about the “Vote-Fix Dossier” it had been leaked about ITV’s Love Island. According to the paper, the 400 page ITV Studios production manual for the show revealed that production bosses: meddle with votes to get the result they want; factor in a ‘safety net’ to avoid losing key characters during the votes; and, steer their favourite Islanders during ‘recouplings’ to ensure they are not at risk. So what does this mean for ITV and other broadcasters? As a former Ofcom executive and independent expert on the Broadcasting Code, Trevor Barnes, was asked to give his view to the SoS and he develops it here.
The main point is that broadcasters must be very careful when organising voting. Broadcast voting must be conducted fairly; viewers and listeners must not be materially misled about any broadcast voting; and broadcasters must draw up clear rules for broadcast votes and make sure they are published. In particular when inviting viewers or listeners to take part broadcasters must state any significant conditions that may affect their decision to participate. See rules 2.13 to 2.15 of the Ofcom Code.
ITV have published their rules. They confirm how viewers can vote (via a special Love Island App). Unlike in the bad old days of the Premium Rate Service scandal of the early 2000s which resulted in Ofcom imposing fines of millions of pounds on TV companies (ITV incidentally copped the highest penalties), this voting is free. But it was that very scandal which led Ofcom to introduce rules 2.13 to 2.15.
These ITV rules also for example contain one that says: “The producers of the Programme may in their discretion reintroduce an Islander seen in earlier stages of the competition who was previously evicted. The Programme producers’ decision will be final.” When Love Island broadcasts the invitation to vote, I do not know how much and what information ITV gives. But I would be interested to learn how many viewers when they decide to vote are aware that, even if the public evicts an Islander, the producers at their sole discretion can bring them back.
I predict that there will be only a handful of complaints to Ofcom though. The viewing public is now soaked in cynicism about broadcast voting for so called ‘reality TV’, summed up by this comment on the newspaper’s website: “every tv show where the viewers have to vote in is fixed so the the producers can save the contestants who bring the most publicity to their shows.” This is NOT another PRS scandal in the making. But broadcasters must play fair by viewers when inviting them to vote.