Regulator set to punish phone-in fraud

ITV, the U.K.’s biggest private terrestrial broadcaster, could be hit by a record £4 million ($7.6 million) fine for defrauding viewers in phone-in competitions, according to industry speculation.

Regulator Ofcom has already punished all the other British terrestrial broadcasters following a string of scandals last year involving malpractice related to phone-in quizzes.

But the watchdog has yet to rule on ITV’s abuse of premium-line services, which, ITV admits, saw auds defrauded of some $15.6 million in quizzes on shows including “Saturday Night Takeaway,” hosted by Ant and Dec.

If ITV is fined $7.6 million, as reported by U.K. online news service MediaGuardian, the amount would be double the fine doled out to breakfast station GMTV, owned by ITV and Disney, for “widespread and systematic deception” in phone-in contests.

Ofcom would not comment on the report; its own findings will be published in “the next few weeks.”

Last summer the regulator fined Five, owned by pan-European giant RTL, $570,000 for irregularities in quizzer “Brainteaser.”

Subsequently the BBC and Channel 4 had to fork over financial penalties for misleading auds in phone-ins.

Ten years ago ITV license holder Carlton was fined a record $3.8 million by Ofcom’s predecessor, the Independent Television Commission, for breaking the program code in “The Connection,” a faked documentary about drug running.

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