Claire Dresser, Chief Adviser at the BBC, received total annual remuneration of £104,285 as of June 2012. On the 27th May 2012, she put a £58.37 taxi ride on expenses. On the 16th December 2010, she spent £14.10 on greetings cards.
How do we know these things? Because the BBC, a public service broadcaster funded by the license fee, rightly believes in the value of transparency. Except, that is, when it doesn’t. And one of the areas in which it apparently doesn’t believe in transparency is telling us in detail how the public voted in shows such as The Voice, Strictly Come Dancing and – topically – Eurovision.
Eurovision’s integrity is now in the spotlight due to apparent irregularities in this year’s scoring and alleged evidence of Azeri vote-buying. The question of manipulation of both juries and televotes is now openly discussed, and not just in our comments section.
We’ll come back to Eurovision later in the article. First, in case you’re wondering why we’ve picked on Claire Dresser, hers was the signature appended to a response to a Freedom Of Information request submitted by Sofabet commenter Dan, who was interested to discover the voting figures for last year’s live shows on The Voice. Dan emails:
I posted a while back that I was going to put in a Freedom of Information request to the BBC regarding voting figures for The Voice. Well, they’ve come back to me and it isn’t good news. They said the following:”This type of information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature”. The BBC is not required to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities.”
Interestingly they also said:
“This is not the type of information we would provide voluntarily, outside the scope of the Act, as releasing voting figures could affect the way that people vote, and also have an impact on the participants.”
Here’s the full response. Dan continues:
Overall, it’s a terrible response from the BBC… As a public service broadcaster who is running a chargeable public vote for charitable, rather than commercial purposes, I would expect a bit more transparency. The excuse for not releasing them is poor and I don’t understand why the secrecy.
We also don’t understand. Rival broadcasters ITV commendably release the voting percentages for the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, after the final result has been announced. The fact that the figures need only be released at the end of the series means the “could affect the way people vote” excuse is utterly lame.
As for the idea that it could “have an impact on the participants”, when you put yourself forward for a show like The Voice, you accept the possibility of being humiliatingly rejected at the audition stage. The idea that if you succeed in getting to the live shows, you then need to be protected from knowing what percentage of the vote you got, is laughable.
Admittedly, we can see a certain logic here when it comes to Strictly, where participants are celebrities and the BBC might want to attract celebs with especially fragile egos. But for The Voice and Eurovision, these reasons simply don’t stack up to us.
If ITV can release the figures for X Factor and BGT, why can’t the BBC release them for The Voice?
Returning to Eurovision, if Italian broadcaster RAI can release the Italian televote percentages for Eurovision, why can’t the BBC and every one of the other 37 countries which voted on it? Indeed, is there any good reason why we shouldn’t get to know the televote percentages and the jury 1-26 in each of the participating countries?
The current debate about Eurovision’s integrity isn’t limited only to the blogs. The question of why Russia got no points from Azerbaijan, despite authorities there saying ‘What If’ scored highly in both the jury vote and televote, hit the front page of the BBC News website.
My first reaction was to consider the implications of page 4 of the EBU’s rulebook this year, which explained: “If it appears that votes are casted only in the intent to abuse the voting system or to false the final results, the EBU Permanent Services, in consultation with the Pan-European televoting partner and the chairman of the Reference Group reserve the right to remove such votes for allocating the ranks.”
Apparently, this is not the case here. The mystery continues.
The only way for the EBU to limit any damage to the Eurovision brand is complete transparency on individual televote and jury rankings. Whether we get it is another matter altogether. The EBU has previously been opaque on matters such as when the televote threshold hasn’t been reached within a country, triggering a jury-only score from a national broadcaster.
In a cynical world, the best way to build trust is to shine the light of transparency. The BBC seem instinctively to know that this is a good idea when it comes to publishing what their employees earn and claim in expenses. Why should the BBC, EBU and other broadcasters not apply the same lesson to the results of televised entertainment, too?
As ever, please share your thoughts in the comments section below. And if you’re suffering post-Eurovision withdrawal, do stay tuned to our coverage of The Voice and BGT, which both reach their conclusions in the coming weeks.