Accounting in the limelight: audit, calculation and governance in UK television
Ong, Yi Ling
This thesis consists of three standalone empirical studies examining the operation and intertwining of accounting in the UK television industry. The first study examines the enrolment of auditing during a series of scandals involving the mishandling of premium rate services in UK television. Through a textual analysis of media coverage of the premium rate scandals, the study traces the mobilisation of an audit investigation commissioned by UK broadcaster ITV in the immediate aftermath of the press revelations. Using t’Hart’s (1993) framework of symbolic actions, the study illustrates that throughout key phases in the scandal process, ITV strategically used the audit investigation to control the official narrative of the scandals whilst protecting itself from further critical scrutiny. The study contributes to the literature on the role of auditing in crisis management, and how this role is implicated in the construction of organisational scandals and wrongdoing in domains other than financial accounting. The second study turns to the long-lasting consequences of the audit-based responses to the 2007 premium rate scandal. Through an in-depth field study of audience vote verification in the 2017 National Television Awards (NTA), the study explores how audit and assurance ideals are appropriated by agents outside the professional audit field to create a new infrastructure of trust. In doing so, the study draws on Giddens (1990, 1991) to argue that the NTA case can be understood as a mimetic adoption of the expert system of audit. It also elaborates on the implications of expert systems, showing that on the one hand, the dis-embedded nature of audit expertise facilitates its expansion into new domains. On the other hand, it could also result in audit expertise becoming more context dependent and thus more reliant on personal trust rather than systems trust. The third study examines how calculative practices are implicated in understanding and shaping television audiences and their viewing behaviour. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with UK television broadcasters, the study traces the interlinkages between recent Big Data-driven innovations in audience measurement and the desire by broadcasters to exercise control over an increasingly fragmented media audience. It focuses on the practices of enumeration, categorisation and calculation involved in producing knowledge of viewer behaviour, as well as the consumerist ethos underpinning such practices. The study’s empirical context of cultural consumption in the everyday private sphere lends itself to a relatively novel application of the governmentality thesis by Miller and Rose (1990). Taken together, the three studies in this thesis illustrate how issues of accounting are deeply implicated in the shaping of contemporary television. In so doing, they seek to further an understanding of accounting and the social. They also highlight the significant governance potential of media content and events, and the role of accounting therein.