Alex Graham on broadcasting

Whatever Grade says, ITV's failures were both serious and systematic
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The Independent Online

Just minutes after ITV issued its corporate response to the findings of the Deloitte review last Thursday morning, another press release appeared on the ITV website. Instead of the three pages devoted to Deloitte's, this one ran to just three lines and, in the course of one of the busier news days in media-land in recent months, it got overlooked.

It quietly announced that ITV had agreed to lift the suspension on new commissions from RDF, the company caught up in the BBC's "Crowngate" affair.

In all the kerfuffle surrounding the resignations of RDF boss Stephen Lambert and BBC One Controller Peter Fincham, you might have been forgiven for forgetting that ITV had suspended RDF. At the time, many in the industry thought that it was an extraordinary decision for ITV to punish a supplier over an issue that was nothing to do with them, and before an inquiry had even been convened, let alone reported. Indeed, ITV's commercial rivals (Channel 4 and Five) distanced themselves from ITV's decision and continued to work with the production company.

But ITV's new tough-talking chairman, Michael Grade, was having none of it. In July, he told an audience at the Royal Television Society, in a speech entitled The Case for Zero Tolerance: "I do not intend to tolerate any breach of trust within ITV's output, whether it comes from in-house producers or independent suppliers."

And in case anyone doubted what that meant, he soon spelt it out even more clearly to the culture, media and sport select committee: "I know what action I will take if I find anybody working for me who has set out deliberately to deceive and lie to the audience: they will not work for me again."

Producers inside and outside ITV braced themselves. If Grade could act so swiftly and brutally against an independent producer over a BBC programme that had not even been broadcast, imagine what he would do if serious failures came to light within ITV itself? Well, now we know. Absolutely nothing.

And, let's be clear: the failures outlined in the Deloitte review were both serious and systematic. Over and over again, producers misled viewers about their chances of winning competitions, or manipulated the results of popular votes. Sometimes, this was apparently the product of a misguided desire to maintain the quality of the show. On Soapstar Superstar, the production team didn't like the viewers' choice of stars to be evicted, so they simply ignored the vote and rigged the names up for eviction. At other times, the motives were more basic.

On Saturday Night Takeaway, viewers competing to ride the Jiggy Bank – a giant pig stuffed with cash, which they had to dislodge – entered a text competition and hoped to be selected as one of the random winners. Except we now know that the producers had already decided where the pig was going that week and if you lived more than an hour away from that (undisclosed) location, you had no choice of winning.

Grade has defended his decision not to punish those concerned on the grounds that the failings were "not venal" and that the producers were motivated by their professional instinct to produce the best show.

I have to confess that I had to look up the word "venal", and the OED describes it as a "readiness to give support and favour in return for profit or reward; prostitution of talents or principles for mercenary considerations".

Whatever Grade says, the exclusion of potential contestants from Jiggy Bank had nothing to do with producing a better show and everything to do with cutting costs.

And even where the producers might be said to be motivated by the desire to improve production values, in ITV's case that is a commercial decision. Bigger audiences mean bigger advertising revenues, which mean a higher share price and a bigger bonus for Chairman Grade. Time to revisit that definition of "venal", perhaps.

Grade has blamed the failures on a "cultural conflict", and says that taking "a couple of token scalps" wouldn't have solved the problem. But if the scalps of two of Britain's brightest creatives – Fincham and Lambert – can be taken for misleading the Press, how can the ITV producers and executive producers keep their jobs after cynically screwing the British public?

ITV says that it doesn't have enough evidence to act against its own employees, but it didn't even wait for the BBC inquiry before acting against RDF and wiping millions of its share price.

This is not simply a plea for further sackings. But it is a plea for clarity, consistency and impartiality. If Michael Grade is serious about rebuilding trust in ITV, he should lead by example and start dealing fairly and even-handedly with both in-house producers and external suppliers.

When Ant & Dec went missing

How much did Ant and Dec know about the corrupt practices at the heart of their Saturday night shows? The question has arisen because McPartlin and Donnelly are listed on the credits as executive producers.

Traditionally, the executive producer was – and in many cases still is – the man or woman in charge of the show; the person with whom the buck stops. But in recent years, there's been a trend for A-list presenting and writing talent to demand executive producer credits as part of their contracts.

Sometimes, of course, this is entirely justified. Chris Evans was not just the presenter but the creative force behind his shows; his hand was in every stage of the production. Similarly Russell T Davies has been the driving force behind the resurrected Doctor Who and entirely deserves his additional credit at the end of the show.

But elsewhere, this has become another aspect of the creeping influence of Hollywood on our television industry. Executive credits are doled out to talent, sometimes as an excuse for paying them even more money but sometimes merely as a sop to their considerable egos.

Perhaps one of the positive things to come out of this sorry state of affairs is that Britain's television stars might be a little more coy about demanding such executive producer credits in future.

Alex Graham is chief executive of the independent producer Wall to Wall and is chair of Pact, the trade association that represents the commercial interests of the independent film and television sector

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