ITV's Grade weighs in on deception 'epidemic'


LONDON -- ITV executive chairman Michael Grade has said the broadcaster will not work with major independent producers such as RDF Media or Endemol if they are found guilty of deceiving the public, adding that the crisis of trust in broadcasting appeared to be of "epidemic" proportions.

"This is an issue for the whole broadcasting industry and appears to be of epidemic proportions. More stuff is going to come out," Grade said Tuesday in an appearance before the House of Commons' culture committee.

His comments follow several months of investigation that have shown instances of audience deception across all major broadcasters, engulfing the industry in what Grade conceded was "a crisis." "This is about as serious as it gets, because this is self-inflicted," he said.

Grade told members of Parliament that the commercial broadcaster will operate a "zero tolerance" approach to audience deception and that anyone found deceiving viewers will face dismissal.

"Anyone who wants to make programs for me, if they get caught deceiving the public that is it," he said. "One strike, and you are out. If people deliberately set out to deceive audiences, they will not work for me again."

Grade told MPs that he believed that independent production companies should "share the pain" of compliance errors and that they have to understand that there will be a "serious and lasting price to pay" for any deceptions, including the loss of ITV's business.

"They have got to share the responsibility," he said. "That hasn't happened before."

Referring to his decision to join the BBC in suspending new commissions from "Wife Swap" and "Faking It" creator RDF Media after the producer admitted falsely editing a scene in the upcoming BBC1 documentary "A Year With the Queen," Grade said the producer's future role with ITV was under review.

"We have a whole roster of programs already commissioned from RDF that I won't interfere with, but pending the outcome of the BBC inquiry we won't give them any more commissions," he said. "That is a signal to the whole sector that there is a price to pay if they mislead us and subvert our compliance processes."

Grade said the same situation applies to Endemol, one of the U.K.'s biggest factual entertainment programmers and the subject of an Ofcom inquiry.

"Endemol is the subject of some Ofcom complaints at the moment. When we see the results of that, if Endemol or any other production company is proven to set out to cheat viewers, we won't do business with them," he said. "Zero tolerance means exactly what it says."

Grade's comments came as Channel 4 and the Five channel announced plans to rebuild trust with viewers and media regulator Ofcom said broadcast licenses would be amended to make broadcasters directly responsible and liable for participation TV services.