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Phone-ins: Erring television channels face criminal proceedings

March 10, 2007: Icstis, the phone line watchdog of the United Kingdom, has warned television channels that any TV show found to be cheating viewers could face criminal proceedings.

Any criminal activity found by a review of phone-in competitions would be passed on to police, Icstis said.

The stern warning came after the premium-rate phone regulator met bosses of television channels to set up a licensing scheme in the wake of allegations that some phone-in shows were cheating callers.

The licensing regime would be introduced within three months and it will also examine the benefits of introducing a trust mark or quality standard to “build long-term public trust in services.”

A review of the participation TV programming will also be conducted and the regulator will monitor the services to check if they are being run as they should.

Meanwhile, Channel Five has withdrawn quizzes with premium-rate services after it was found that winners on one show had been faked.

An internal review apparently revealed that a time-limited word quiz on the daytime show Brainteaser sometimes had winners invented if no genuine callers got the right answer.

Bosses at Channel Five, who say they had no knowledge of the problem, have apologised to the viewers.

Sir Alistair Graham, Icstis chairman, unveiled a series of measures on March 8, 2007, designed to restore confidence in TV phone-ins.

The licensing scheme is designed to define who has responsibility for each part of a phone-in programme.

Other measures announced include a systematic monitoring of premium phone services and the publication of clear rules on competitions. But the first measure to be introduced is the review of current and forthcoming shows.

Sir Alistair Graham said: “If we have any evidence that a possible criminal offence has occurred, we have very close links with the City of London police force and I can assure you we would refer any such evidence for them to investigate.”

Icstis also has the power to impose heavy fines for wrongdoing.

The regulator is already investigating six other shows: Channel 4’s Richard and Judy, BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, and ITV programmes Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, The X Factor, Soapstar Superstar and I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!

These shows face a host of charges, including misleading viewers in order to maximise call volumes. In the case of X-Factor, human error was blamed for a data inputting mistake that led to viewers voting via the red button being overcharged by £200,000.

Broadcasters routinely charge up to £1 a time to vote in programmes such as X-Factor and Dancing on Ice or enter quizzes during live programmes.

The booming sub-genre of quiz TV, in which viewers are encouraged to call in with the answers to superficially easy quizzes but only a fraction get through, is also under suspicion.

Five, like ITV, has appointed an external auditor to look into all its premium-rate viewer participation after Endemol uncovered the problem with Brainteaser. The problem arose when the daily show asked viewers to solve a word puzzle within five minutes.

“When the five-minute window and the phone lines had closed, Cheetah Television, working through a list of callers supplied by the phone service provider, were unable to find a caller with the correct answer before the winner was due to be announced on air,” according to Channel Five.

“Instead of informing viewers that no winning caller had been found in the time period available, the production company put fictional names on screen as winners. On one occasion, a member of the production team went on air as a winning contestant.”






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