Channel 4 was hit with a £1.5 million fine by broadcasting watchdog Ofcom today for misconduct in Richard and Judy’s You Say We Pay competition and Deal Or No Deal.
Finalists for the Richard and Judy quiz were picked before lines closed.
In Deal Or No Deal, presented by Noel Edmonds, viewers entering the competition were not given a fair and equal chance of winning.
Channel 4 has been instructed to broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s findings on three separate occasions.
Both quizzes, which used premium rate numbers, are no longer on air.
Channel 4 said it would like to ‘apologise once again’ to viewers.
In August, the premium rate phone regulator PhonePayPlus – then called Icstis – slapped a £30,000 fine on service provider iTouch UK over Deal Or No Deal.
Early callers to the competition on the hit show had more of a chance of being selected than later callers.
Collectively, the new fine is the second largest imposed by Ofcom following the £2 million sanction against GMTV.
Telephone lines, costing around £1, to the Richard And Judy teatime quiz officially closed just after 5.35pm.
But from September 2004, a shortlist of finalists was drawn up at around 5.20pm while the telephone lines were still open and the programme was still soliciting viewers to enter the competition.
Ofcom said: ‘This practice meant that those viewers who called to enter the competitions on the basis that they had a fair and equal chance of winning, in fact had no chance of becoming a finalist after early selection had taken place.’
Ofcom also ruled that those who called to enter the competition later in the programme had a lesser chance of being selected.
Channel 4 said it had not realised its staggered selection process was unfair.
Ofcom concluded: ‘The committee accepted that Channel 4 had no intention to mislead its audience.
‘However, the committee nonetheless took the view that the breaches constituted a substantial breakdown in the fundamental relationship of trust between a public service broadcaster and its viewers.’
It said: ‘Millions of viewers purchased the right to enter these competitions and invested trust in the licensee (Channel 4).
‘This trust was ultimately misplaced. This case involved the widespread and systematic deception of all those viewers who paid to enter in the belief that they had a fair chance of winning when in fact their chances of winning were diminished or non-existent.
‘Despite the considerable importance of the programme and the competitions to Channel 4, it failed to have any proper regard for the necessity to operate any effective form of compliance procedures for the operation of the competition.
‘It failed to adequately manage or oversee fundamental elements of the conduct or the competition (winner selection procedures).’
In August 2007, Channel 4 announced it was shutting all premium rate competitions.
Ofcom has also fined the BBC £50,000 over Blue Peter and Five £300,000 over its Brainteaser quiz.
More investigations are ongoing into ITV shows like Ant And Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Gameshow Marathon and the BBC’s Children In Need and Comic Relief.
Channel 4 has been fined £1 million over the You Say We Pay and £500,000 over Deal Or No Deal.
The broadcaster announced it was starting legal proceedings to recover costs from Eckoh, the service provider for You Say We Pay.
Channel 4’s Group Finance Director Anne Bulford said: ‘Channel 4 is no longer running any premium rate competitions and so we believe today’s ruling brings this particular chapter to a close.
‘We would like to apologise once again to those affected and to assure all our viewers that Channel 4 is committed to applying the lessons learned across all its activities and to doing everything in its power to regain and maintain their trust.’
It said it was taking legal action against Eckoh for You Say We Pay because ‘it knew that the competition was being run in a non-compliant fashion but it took no steps to rectify the problems it had identified or to bring them to Channel 4’s attention’.
Eckoh was fined £150,000 by premium rate phone regulator PhonepayPlus (formerly Icstis) in July over the competition.
Eckoh also ran Deal Or No Deal but Channel 4 is not taking legal action against the company for this competition.
Channel 4 said it will also donate an extra £600,000 to charity in addition to the £300,000 already pledged to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
The broadcaster continued to conduct an unfair competition on Deal Or No Deal for seven weeks after realising its staggered selection process – which disadvantaged later entrants – was unfair.
A total £15 million of gross revenue was raised during the period the competition was being run unfairly from August last year to March.
Around 934,000 calls were thought to have been affected.
But the competition raised a further £2.1 million in revenue while it continued in the period Channel 4 knew it was unfair.
Ofcom said it was ‘seriously concerned’ that the broadcaster had not checked the competition was being run fairly.
Its failure to take ‘even the most basic independent steps’ to ensure it was being run fairly ‘was negligent’, it said.
It said the size of the breaches on Deal Or No Deal resulted in ‘significant consumer harm’ and the decision to continue running the competition while it knew it was unfair was ‘totally unacceptable’.
Richard and Judy are quitting their teatime show next year.
A spokesman for Eckoh said: ‘Eckoh has noted the ruling against Channel 4 made by the regulator Ofcom relating to the You Say, We Pay competition on the Richard and Judy show, which we believe to be fair.
‘We have not been contacted by Channel 4, directly or indirectly, and believe strongly that there is no basis for any legal action against us.
‘If Channel 4 wishes to proceed with a legal action, then we will robustly defend our position.’
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