The Daily Telegraph has egg, and perhaps a few other ingredients, on its face after naming the wrong winner of MasterChef Australia last night. In the process it has embarrassed its TV reporter, exposed the widespread newspaper habit of pre-writing the news and highlighted some of Ten’s dodgy publicity practices.

Last night at 8.57pm The Daily Telegraph’s online site posted a story with the headline “Poh Wins MasterChef Australia” and described the South Australian contestant’s joy at winning the popular show.

Not since The Herald Sun called the 1993 federal election for John Hewson has a newspaper been so demonstrably wrong.

The Daily Telegraph’s TV writer, Erin McWhirter, was phoned last night at about 9.10pm by Jo’an Papadopoulos from Ten Publicity and told that The Daily Telegraph website had posted the wrong story. By that stage it was clear to viewers that contestant Julie Goodwin was winning.

McWhirter told Crikey today that she was “shocked and disappointed” when Ten called because she’d worked hard to ensure that whatever the outcome, the paper would have an accurate story.

She did this by writing two versions of the story, with either Poh Ling Yeow or Julie Goodwin as the winner. She had constructed the stories after interviewing both contestants on Friday and asking them a series of hypothetical questions about what it would be like to be the winner or loser respectively.

Somehow, someone posted the story too early — and the wrong version — creating the embarrassment. She attributes this to a “production glitch”, and told Crikey that she doesn’t know what happened but this morning an inquiry was underway to work out what went wrong.

But that ain’t the half of it!

It transpires that when McWhirter and the other reporters from rival newspapers lined up to interview the finalists on Friday, they were all playing a game. The series final had actually been prerecorded on July 2 and yet the contestants had to participate in interviews in which they were asked to give hypothetical answers to questions about what it was like to win something only one of them had won.

“This is really a surreal feeling,” Poh told The Daily Telegraph on Friday.

Well yes it would be, because there she was, giving her reaction for a story which would proclaim her as the winner when she knew — but wasn’t allowed to tell the reporter — that she wasn’t.

The Ten network put the reporters and the contestants in this invidious position by refusing to send out embargoed information about the winners. Papadopoulos told Crikey that Ten had decided to keep the winner “under wraps” even though “the pressure was enormous”. She said the plan “worked nicely” because there had not been a serious leak in the 17 days before it went to air.

This, no doubt, helped the staggering ratings which Papadopoulos says peaked at 4.11 million viewers, with 3.71 million tuned in for the announcement of the winner — making it the highest rating non-sport show since the beginning of the OzTam ratings system.

But what about the ethics of it all? Papadopoulos says it was fine because the contestants were only encouraged to talk about their feelings about the show in general and not to lie to the reporters. She said the contestants had “workshopped” it so that they were ready to give general answers and not to say categorically that they had won or lost.

How then does Ten explain Julie’s answer when she told The Daily Telegraph on Friday that “Poh is a very deserving winner”?

It seems that Ten has been too tricky, wanting to create intrigue to generate publicity and putting the media in awkward situations in the process. But equally the media covering it should not have been so compliant and should have exposed this nonsense sooner.

Not surprisingly, Papadopoulos says she hopes the final of MasterChef will be broadcast live next year.