March 07, 2007

Dodgy phone–ins are more widespread than you think

Q. Name an item typically found in a woman’s handbag?
A. Rawl plugs, a balaclava and a rubber band!

This is the public face of the dodgy phone-in competition. You pay £1 per call and get to beat your head against a wall while attempting to win £50 or the £50,000 jackpot! The jackpot will probably be won if your birthday happens to be February 29th.

But the scam of dodgy phone-ins and competitions goes much further than recent revelations have suggested. Daily, radio stations are hosting competitions where the winner’s already been decided. Phone-ins that have been recorded the previous week. And contributors who are little more than actors.

Proof is hard to come by, and relies on anecdotes of people who have won competitions weeks before they were broadcast – and weeks before people were asked to call in and ‘play’.

It’s just as prevalent at the BBC as in the commercial world, even though they can’t make money from phone lines. Well-known radio shows use fake guests, play competitions that were won the week before and make ‘real-life’ features which are completely faked. Shows are often pre-recorded, yet they’ll still ask for your e-mails and then read out manufactured ones.

I can’t prove this, and it seems no-one else can either. The contempt of producers towards their audience will continue, and only an industry ‘supergrass’ will ever be able to do anything about it.

But when you get asked to phone in to a radio or TV show, ask yourself first whether you trust the people making the programme. Because worryingly often, you shouldn’t.


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