Phone-ins: Erring television
channels face criminal proceedings
BY A CORRESPONDENT
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
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Meanwhile, Channel Five has withdrawn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
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
“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.”