May 09, 2008

ITV fined record £5.7m for phone-in scandal

UK media regulator Ofcom has fined ITV a record £5.7m for last year’s premium rate phone-in competition scandal. The fine is nearly three times the record amount of £2m previously handed to GMTV, and was issued in connection with gaming transgressions that occurred during shows such as Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Soap Star Super Star and Gameshow Marathon.

Ofcom found that the show producers had committed numerous transgressions of TV regulations and broadcasting codes such as “selecting competition finalists before the telephone lines were announced as closed, staggering the selection of competition finalists which meant that viewers entering the competition did not have a fair and equal chance of winning” and “selecting finalists on the basis of their suitability to be on television and where they lived - contrary to the broadcaster’s own terms and conditions, which explicitly stated that entrants would be chosen randomly”.

Philip Graf, chairman of Ofcom’s Content Sanctions Committee, said: “ITV programme makers totally disregarded their own published terms and conditions and Ofcom Codes. Further there was a completely inadequate compliance system in place. The result was that millions of paying entrants were misled into believing they could fairly interact with some of ITV’s most popular programmes.”

Ed Richards, chief executive of Ofcom, said: “This was a thorough set of investigations which uncovered institutionalised failure within ITV that enabled the broadcaster to make money from misconduct on mass audience programmes. The industry can be in no doubt how seriously Ofcom takes the issue of audience trust. Our new licence conditions requiring broadcasters, who operate in this area, to conduct third party audits will ensure that consumers are protected”.

Ofcom added that ITV was unable to provide it with sufficient data in relation to its regional programming, where premuim rate services were used. The regulator considered Wthat this lack of information appears to indicate an absence of robust systems in place in the operation of PRS in regional programming”.