The company behind the Richard and Judy premium rate telephone quiz scandal has been hit with a record fine.
Premium rate services regulator Icstis slapped a £150,000 penalty on Eckoh UK Ltd.
It also ordered a sanction to provide refunds to all those affected.
The company was punished after an inquiry into allegations that the You Say, We Pay telephone quiz on Channel 4’s Richard and Judy show urged viewers to call in even though potential winners had already been chosen.
Icstis ruled that the competition seriously misled viewers.
You Say, We Pay
The watchdog is now referring the case to broadcasting regulator Ofcom, which it said may wish to investigate the actions of the parties involved under the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.
Icstis said that almost five million viewers entered the competition at a cost of £1 per call.
But 47 per cent of calls were received after the shortlist of winners had already been chosen.
A Channel 4 spokesman said: ‘As soon as Channel 4 became aware of problems with the way You Say We Pay was being operated, we immediately suspended the competition and made a refund offer as well as making a commitment to donate any profit we had made from improperly entered calls to Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity.
‘Since then we have introduced a new monitoring regime to audit the performance of service providers on our remaining phone-in competitions on a live and ongoing basis, have worked with our telephony suppliers to improve procedures and have co-operated fully with Icstis in an attempt to introduce new industry-wide safeguards.
‘Channel 4 is giving priority to completing its investigation into when and why the problems with You Say We Pay first arose.’
Code of practice
Service provider Eckoh pointed out that under the code of practice, it was the only party that could be sanctioned by Icstis for breaches of compliance.
It added that information providers – in this case Channel 4 and production firm Cactus – were outside the jurisdiction of Icstis.
Nik Philpot, chief executive of Eckoh, said: ‘We accept that Eckoh made mistakes with You Say We Pay but it seems clear to us that all three parties could and should have spotted the problem earlier.
‘It was Eckoh which identified it and tried to take action. We have put in procedures that set the benchmark in terms of best practice and we are pleased that Icstis has described these as an admirable and comprehensive range of measures to ensure compliance in the future.
‘What this adjudication highlights is the important point that, in our opinion, the regulations governing premium rate services linked to television programmes are fundamentally flawed.”
Mr Philpot said Eckoh regretted the damage the case had caused to the perception of such services.
He added: ‘We are extremely sorry for anyone who entered the competition and were not dealt with appropriately. Eckoh takes its responsibilities and good reputation extremely seriously and, in conjunction with Channel 4, has already offered a refund to those affected in the recent series.’
Eckoh complained that it had been made a ‘scapegoat’ and that it would consider appealing.
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