TV phone-ins face tougher rulesMeasures follow last year's phone quiz scandals

20 February 2008

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

Broadcast regulator Ofcom has unveiled a raft of new measures in a bid to stop consumers being ripped off by premium-rate phone-ins.

The move comes after a spate of more than 20 alleged phone-in quiz scandals - involving GMTV, Five, Channel 4, ITV and BBC – rocked the industry last year.

At the time Ofcom slated television broadcasters for a ‘systemic failure’ in the way they operated their premium rate phone services.

The regulator has now announced a series of measures which it says will both protect consumers and help restore trust in participation TV.

Votes

The changes will make TV broadcasters responsible for the handling of all viewer communications - whether by phone, email or post - even if the services are contracted out.

Broadcasters must also have their voting systems checked by an independent third party and Ofcom will carry out spot checks to make sure new rules are being followed.

Companies looking to provide premium-rate phone services for broadcasters will also have to seek permission in advance from premium rate watchdog, PhonepayPlus (formerly Icstis).

They will have to meet a number of conditions including ensuring that telephone lines are closed promptly, and that all competition winners are chosen randomly.

'Firm action'

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: ‘Viewers must be confident that they will be treated fairly and consistently when interacting with television programmes.

‘These measures will ensure that broadcasters are directly accountable and give greater protection for all.

‘Ofcom will not hesitate to take firm action with broadcasters who step out of line and mislead people.’

These measures will ensure broadcasters are accountable

Several TV shows were caught up in the premium-rate scandal, including Richard And Judy on Channel 4, GMTV, Saturday Night Takeaway and the British Comedy Awards on ITV1.

Which? spokesman Bob Tolliday said: ‘After the phone-in scandals of last year, consumers desperately needed the regulator to step in and sort things out, so this is good news.

‘These new rules mean broadcasters won't be able to hide behind excuses if things go wrong again.'