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Ofcom tightens TV phone-in rules

Some programmes will have to change or disappear

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

Broadcast regulator Ofcom has announced plans for a crackdown on TV phone-ins which could force some programmes to change or disappear.

Proposed rules would tighten the regulation of television and radio programmes that rely heavily on viewers calling expensive premium-rate phone numbers to participate in the show.

These are typically quiz shows and psychic or adult chat channels.

The regulator says the proposals would ensure that participation programmes ‘are not vehicles for promoting commercial, revenue-generating services’.

Premium rate

Under the rules, programmes must not give premium-rate services ‘undue prominence’ and should consist primarily of content rather than promotion of the phone line.

They also restrict broadcasters to charging viewers through premium-rate call charges and not by other means such as credit or debit cards.

The new rules take into account a judgement by the European Court of Justice that a quiz TV show could be classified as ‘teleshopping’.

If adopted, the proposed rules will apply to both radio and television but will be particularly significant to participation TV services.


These services would have to either comply with the new rules or be reclassified as teleshopping and be subject to advertising regulations.

However some programmes, such as adult chat on unencrypted channels, cannot be broadcast as teleshopping.

Ofcom says this means that unless these programmes were changed to comply with the new code, they couldn’t be broadcast.

Editorial content

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards said: ‘The new rules mean these channels face a much tougher regulatory regime which they must comply with.

‘Ofcom will ensure that programmes only use premium-rate telephone lines where there is sufficient editorial justification. This will further distinguish between television advertising and editorial content for the benefit of viewers.’

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