WRITING in this space on Tuesday about the extraordinary result of a BBC Radio 4 audience poll which chose Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, as the most powerful man in Britain I said, The likelihood that those who are root-and-branch opposed to the EU voted en masse for Senhor Barroso cannot be dismissed. And so it has turned out. Yesterday, The Guardian reported that the UK Independence Party had admitted it tried to rig the poll: Ukip and Dan Hannan, the fiercely Eurosceptic Conservative MEP, both admitted that they had separately sent emails encouraging supporters to vote for Mr Barroso. Ukip's spokesman in Brussels said, It would be a lie to say that people weren't encouraging each other. Of course we were. The children must be allowed to have their fun but there is a serious point at issue here. The kind of audience poll run by the Today programme on this occasion is used by many other programmes on BBC and commercial radio and TV. The audience is asked to call specific numbers to vote for the individual they want to win, or to respond Yes or No to a proposition posed by the broadcaster. Sometimes the issue is inconsequential but at other times it can be quite important in assessing public opinion on a controversial issue. Yet there seem to be no established professional standards for such polls. The BBC often says it takes action when it suspects strong lobbying by repetitive voting. What action? Does it disqualify those votes and, if so, how can it be absolutely sure that they are not part of genuine individual voting? In any case, is there a law against organised telephone voting of this kind? Another problem is the unwillingness of the networks to reveal how many people voted; they prefer to give percentages but as any reputaable polling organisation knows, there has to be a certain minimum number of participants before any poll can be considered representative. In their own interests, the broadcasting organisations should get together to draw up a code of conduct for TV and radio polling, ranging from ITV's ITAL/The X Factor/ to the BBC's rigged poll on who runs Britain.
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