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Broadcasters attacked over premium rate services

TV watchdog slams ‘systemic failure’


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

Television broadcasters were lambasted by the industry’s watchdog today for a ‘systemic failure’ in the way they operate their premium rate phone services.

Ofcom said there was an apparent lack of transparency between telecoms operators, producers and broadcasters and called for more accountability.

It said some broadcasters were in denial about their responsibility to their viewers and must develop a fairer and more competitive system.

The inquiry has been looking into more than 20 alleged phone-in quiz scandals – including GMTV, the BBC and Five – since March.

TV phone-ins

Earlier this month, the BBC’s Blue Peter was fined £50,000 after it was found guilty of ‘deception’ of its young viewers by faking a competition winner.

Richard Ayre, who led the Ofcom inquiry, said: ‘Phoning a TV show isn’t like ordering pizza.

‘When you put the phone down, nothing arrives: you just have to trust that your call was counted.

‘If broadcasters want audiences to go on spending millions calling in, they need to show they take consumer protection as seriously as programme content.’

Consumer protection

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said action would be taken against broadcasters who failed to change their ways.

‘This inquiry shows the extent to which there has been a systemic failure of compliance,” he said.

‘Ofcom takes these issues extremely seriously and will continue to take action against broadcasters found to break the rules in this area.

‘To restore trust with viewers, broadcasters need to deliver and demonstrate strong consumer protection as well as quality programming.’

Lack of transparency’

Ofcom said the growth of premium rate telecommunications services (PRS) had been largely driven by the promise of greater revenue.

It went on: ‘Some broadcasters appeared to be in denial about their responsibilities to ensure programmes delivered on the transactions they offered to viewers.

‘There was an apparent lack of transparency through the supply chain – between telecoms operators, producers and broadcasters – resulting in a lack of clarity about responsibilities.’

The inquiry called for broadcasters’ licences to be changed to include greater consumer protection and independent third party auditing.

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