LONDON — ITV topper Michael Grade has issued a blunt warning to his fellow broadcasters to stop treating audiences with “casual contempt” or public trust in TV will be further undermined.
Speaking to the Royal Television Society, Grade called for “zero tolerance” toward any form of “deceit.”
He warned that it was more important than ever in the fast emerging digital era to ensure that editorial standards across all genres were high.
Grade, who took over as ITV’s executive chairman in January, said recent scandals over premium line phone services that involved all U.K. terrestrial broadcasters, including ITV, drew attention to a problem that called for a fundamental re-examination of two key issues.
“First, how economic, technical and organizational changes have strained our ability to ensure the highest standards throughout the whole production chain.
“And second, what it has highlighted in our attitudes to our audiences: how — in some cases — was such a casual contempt for audiences allowed to develop?”
Recent issues concerning premium phone lines have serious implications for all British webs.
“It was, frankly, an unexpected, shocking, but very necessary wake-up call,” said Grade.
However, Grade’s attack on misleading programming went beyond the recent scandals.
British public service broadcasters must maintain impartiality in news shows and avoid U.S.-style fare like the avowedly right of center Fox News, shock jocks and stations espousing particular religious views.
He added: “Producers are always under pressure to come up with what the commissioning editors — their paying customers — want.
“It is not hard to imagine a producer tempted to cut corners to deliver the over-hyped promise that won the commission, but which couldn’t actually be delivered without cutting corners. Cutting corners is another way of saying cheating.”
Grade’s high moral tone will almost certainly lead to skeptical comments in the British media who will likely regard his speech as nothing more than a well timed exercise in spin designed to improve ITV’s image in the wake of the phone quiz scandal.