TV phone quizzes 'may be licensed'Regulator holds crisis talks to look into issue

08 March 2007

 

A close-up of a telephone cord a man is using to make a call.

Television phone quizzes may have to be licensed to end a 'pretty grim mess' of viewer rip-offs, the head of a watchdog said today ahead of crisis talks.

Sir Alistair Graham, Chairman of premium rate phone service regulator Icstis, will meet with broadcasters today to find a solution to the immediate problem and a longer-term solution.

Icstis is already investigating alleged irregularities in phone voting conducted by Channel 4's Richard and Judy show and the BBC's Saturday Kitchen.

Interactive services

ITV has temporarily suspended interactive services across all its channels and launched a review of its systems after it emerged that X Factor viewers were overcharged to the tune of £200,000 in an interactive vote blunder.

Sir Alistair told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'These things are a matter of individual choice and they have been shown to be popular, which is why I am anxious that we sort out this pretty grim mess that the broadcast companies have got themselves into.

'We need something fairly quick to try to restore consumer confidence in this area and then perhaps a longer-term solution which may be us running some sort of licence arrangement or some kite mark - something that can give confidence that if you are going to use a premium rate telephone line in a television programme, you are not going to be ripped off.'

Phone bills

He indicated that there could be other problems yet to emerge.

'The first thing I will be asking is 'is there anything else nasty in the woodshed we should be knowing about?' so that we can get this out on the table. The job of a regulator is to try to design in good consumer practice in the way these programmes are run.'

Viewers need to be 'fully aware' of the potential costs and should be warned when they begin to rack up large bills, he suggested.

'If someone is invited to ring in on a telephone line when the programme has already been recorded... that's clearly just unacceptable semi-fraudulent behaviour,' he added.

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