ITV faces potential fine over Britain’s Got Talent dog-gate

As Ofcom looks into the dog substitution in the final, Ben Dowell assesses what’s next for Simon Cowell and ITV

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ITV is facing a potential Ofcom investigation that could see it fined by the media regulator for a dog substitution in the Britain’s Got Talent final.

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A spokesman for Ofcom told RadioTimes.com it was considering 206 complaints after winning dog Matisse was swapped for a lookalike in the high-wire act that helped the animal and its owner Jules O’Dwyer triumph in the talent competition.

The canine act won £250,000 for winning sketch (which revolved around stolen sausages), and the chance to perform in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety Performance. Theirs is the second dog act to win Britain’s Got Talent, following Ashleigh Butler and Pudsey in 2012, but it is certainly the most controversial.

No formal investigation is under way yet – but Ofcom sources say that one could be initiated soon.

Here’s our guide to the infamous dog-gate incident on the ITV entertainment…


What happened?

Matisse’s owner Jules O’Dwyer faced a social media backlash after she admitted substituting Matisse for her dog Chase. “Matisse is a little bit afraid of heights, so although he could officially do it, Chase is the action dog, so he plays the double for him,” O’Dwyer blithely admitted on ITV breakfast show Lorraine. “Every dog has a different character. The tightrope takes months of training.”


Why were viewers so annoyed?

Viewers were outraged that the swap was done behind the scenes to make it look like Matisse had performed all the tricks. One Twitter user said that the use of the stunt dog meant that magician Jamie Raven had been “pretty much robbed of £250,000” (O’Dwyer and Matisse received 22.6% of the votes while Raven got 20.4%).

Many tweeted that BGT’s producers should have informed viewers about the swap before the public vote. As well as the Twitter outrage, 874 people so far have complained to media regulator Ofcom (90 have also complained to the regulator about the low-cut dresses sported by judges Alesha Dixon and Amanda Holden).


What is their excuse?

To be fair to O’Dwyer, Chase had been introduced to viewers in the semi-final performance alongside Matisse. But the use of two dogs was not explicitly mentioned on screen during the final. O’Dwyer told Lorraine she was “shocked” and “surprised” by the backlash.

“I spent so much time creating this lovely story – I wanted to make it exciting for the people watching,” she added.

“I wanted that ‘wow’ nail-biting element [where they’re at] the edge of their seat, I wanted people to laugh so I wanted the comedy and the humour and then I wanted that ‘awww’.

“I was disappointed when people said I allegedly hid Chase and I was trying to make it like Chase was Matisse. That’s not so. I introduced Chase in the semi-final, and I said Chase is Matisse’s best mate.”


What has Simon Cowell said?

On the record the production company has issued a statement apologising to viewers. “We are sorry if this was not made clearer to the judges and viewers at home during their final performance,” it said.  But sources close to the mogul have suggested that Cowell didn’t know about the switch and is “shocked and angry” about the fuss. “Heads could roll,” a source told The Sun.


Has ITV breached broadcasting rules? Could it be fined?

Potentially.

This is the relevant section of the Broadcasting Code which all broadcasters must abide by:

Broadcast competitions and voting

2.13 Broadcast competitions and voting must be conducted fairly.

2.14 Broadcasters must ensure that viewers and listeners are not materially misled about any broadcast competition or voting.

In 2008 Ofcom fined a record £5.7m for “seriously and repeatedly misleading” audiences over TV phone-ins on hit shows including Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.


What next?

It is up to Ofcom if it formally investigates the programme because it believes the broadcasting code has been breached. Sources there tell RadioTimes.com that a fine is the last resort and there are other sanctions including an upheld complaint – essentially a formal ticking-off – which are more likely. That would leave ITV red-faced, though not obliged to open the cheque book. Subsequent breaches would then be looked on less favourably if ITV is considered a repeat offender by Ofcom.

So time will tell. Whether the public will remain angry is another question. Viewers have a habit of forgetting about talent show winners…

ITV did not respond to a request for comment, but the broadcaster’s director of programmes Peter Fincham told a conference today that the presentation of the act was a “judgment call”.

“In the audition it was made quite clear this was a dog act with a range of dogs,” he told lobby group the Voice of the Listener and Viewer conference. “In hindsight, in the final it would have been better if that was clear.

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“To be absolutely clear these things are a judgment call that producers make.”