GMTV, the ITV breakfast station in which Disney owns a 25% stake, has been fined £2 million ($4 million) by U.K. media regulator Ofcom for “widespread and systematic deception” in phone-in quizzes.
The penalty, Ofcom’s biggest ever, matches the $4 million that the Independent Television Commission fined Carlton Television for faking drug-running documentary “The Connection” in 1998.
Ofcom said the GMTV fraud “involved the widespread and systematic deception of all those viewers who paid to enter (phone-in quizzes) in the belief that they had a fair chance of winning when, in fact, their chances of winning were diminished or nonexistent” because the winners had already been picked.
GMTV swindled viewers out of an estimated $80 million over four years.
GMTV managing director Paul Corley and director of phone-in competitions Kate Fleming have already resigned.
The broadcaster said it takes “full responsibility” for the deception and that a new code to ensure good practice for premium-rate quizzes had been introduced.
Ofcom said the rigged quizzes “constituted a substantial breakdown in the fundamental relationship of trust between a public service broadcaster and its viewers.”
The regulator, which earlier fined terrestrial web Five $600,000 for faking winners in “Brainteaser,” has told GMTV it must broadcast a statement of its findings three times.
The fine comes two days after Icstis, which regulates U.K. premium-rate phone services, imposed a $500,000 penalty on Opera Telecom, GMTV’s telco service provider.
The regulator described the case as the worst it had ever encountered “in terms of the numbers of consumers affected and the amount of money at stake.”