U.K. regulator rules on phone scams

Ofcom points to 'systemic failure'

LONDON — Blighty’s TV channels operating premium line services have been accused of a “systemic failure” by the regulator Ofcom.

Announcing the results of an inquiry following scandals over premium line services that have hit all U.K. terrestrial channels, the watchdog warned that broadcasters were “in denial” about their responsibilities to audiences.

Financial motives were the driving motive for these services, said the inquiry headed by Ofcom content board member Richard Ayre, a former BBC news topper.

He said: “Phoning a TV show isn’t like ordering pizza.

“When you put the phone down nothing arrives: you just have to trust that your call was counted.

“If broadcasters want audiences to go on spending millions calling in, they need to show they take consumer protection as seriously as program content.”

He said there was a “lack of transparency” over who is responsible for the services.

As the various scandals have come to light there has been a tendency for each of the parties involved — broadcaster, independent producer and service provider — to blame one another.

The inquiry recommends that broadcasters’ licenses be altered so they are forced to undertake an independent audit of phone-in votes.

In the past, phone lines have been kept open after winners were chosen.

Ofcom said it is “minded” to accept the recommendations.

The regulator’s CEO Ed Richards said: “This inquiry shows the extent to which there has been a systemic failure of compliance. ”

To date Ofcom has fined Five, owned by RTL, $600,000 for faking guests in “Brainteaser,” and the BBC’s “Blue Peter” $100,000 for faking a winner in a phone-in competition.

The regulator is examining more than 20 other causes, including alleged abuses by breakfast station GMTV, part-owned by Disney, and ITV.

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