The Government has now stepped into the ever-increasing TV phone-in scandal by suggesting tough new laws could be introduced to crack down on broadcasters.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has reminded media organisations that they should never forget the trust people have in them. She warned that she would wait to see what action was taken by regulators Ofcom and Icstis before deciding whether extra powers were needed.
Premium-rate phone watchdog Icstis is currently investigating six popular TV programmes – Channel 4’s Richard And Judy, the BBC’s Saturday Kitchenand ITV shows, X Factor, Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Soapstar Superstar and I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here.
Throw in the laughable gaffes that have dogged the Eurovision decider Making Your Mind Upon the Beeb last weekend, plus the shocking confession that a viewers’ competition was faked on the BBC’s bastion of middle class respectability Blue Peter, and our TV networks are facing some unprecedented flak and the sort of difficult questions they have successful side-stepped for so long.
Coming after the various storms about Channel 4’s Celebrity Big Brother, the way in which broadcasters treat their viewers is possibly now under closer scrutiny than ever before.
The fact that the media watchdog has now announced that it is to widen a review into pay-TV following the unseemly spat between Sky and Virgin is also a welcome development.
Ofcom’s decision follows complaints from Sky’s rivals about its influence on the market. The regulator insisted the decision was made before Sky withdrew basic channels from Virgin after a dispute over pricing, sparking a battle royal between tow of the highest profile figures in the media industry.
Ultimately, in each case, the big losers are the viewers.
The broadcasters have been getting away with providing poor value for money for too long. Peruse any TV listings and the paucity of quality programmes is depressingly evident.
The rise of pay-TV has also impacted heavily and adversely on our viewing habits and options and it almost makes one yearn for the days when we had just three or four channels to chose from – almost, but not quite.
Despite the numerous reassurances and robust defences, claims that the rising number of TV channels would lead to a diminishing quality of programmes appear to have been proved right. The fact that a growing proportion of TV’s future viewers are just as likely to log on to various internet sites than switch on their television sets should provide the biggest kick-up the backside to the industry.
Just as newspapers have taken too long to adapt to ever-changing attitudes to media consumption, so the TV industry needs to act quickly to address the rise of YouTube, together other video-sharing and popular community sites.
But above all, it needs to adopt a far less arrogant stance towards the people who justify their existence. The viewing public deserves more in terms of respect, quality and value for money.
As other alternatives to TV begin the manifest themselves people will begin to vote with their fingers – reaching for the mouse rather than the TV remote control.