TV phone-in quiz shows could face prosecution if they are found to be operating effectively as lotteries, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell has indicated.
But she rejected a call from MPs for the shows to be reclassified as gambling, which could have brought them under the same regulations as games of chance like roulette or bingo.
An official document released by Ms Jowell’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said the government was ‘extremely concerned’ about reported scandals around premium-rate quiz lines and expected broadcasters to exercise ‘the highest levels of probity’.
The DCMS warned that measures in the Gambling Act 2005 coming into effect this September will reclassify phone-ins as lotteries unless they include ‘well-publicised’ free methods of taking part.
Most phone-in shows avoid being officially classed as lotteries – for which a licence is needed – by offering free entry via the internet as an alternative to calling a premium-rate line.
The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee has already cited one game in which viewers were urged to ring premium-rate lines to name a popular pet, only to find that the top-prize answer was ‘bearded dragon’.
In another the list of items to guess which might be found in a lady’s handbag included ‘Rawlplugs’ and ‘balaclava’.
The MPs said the shows amounted to gambling because it was a matter of chance whether a call was answered – even though all calls incurred charges. And they proposed a set of safeguards to alert viewers to the fact that answers may be cryptic and there may be little likelihood of getting through.
In today’s official response to the committee, the DCMS agreed that some TV quizzes ‘share many of the characteristics of gambling’.
But there was a ‘qualitative difference’ between games which tested contestants’ skill in working out an answer – no matter how cryptic – and those which involved an element of chance.
In the Department’s view, ‘call TV quiz shows constitute competitions and not gaming’.
The independent review, commissioned by ITV, into TV phone-ins had cleared Ant and Dec’s Gameshow Marathon and Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
ITV said that it was ‘satisfied that these programmes are being operated in accordance with the ICSTIS and Ofcom codes.’
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