Ofcom fines ITV record $11 million

Company punished for fraud

ITV has been fined an eye-watering £5.6 million ($11.06 million) — nearly three times the previous record fine imposed on a British TV station — for repeatedly ripping off audiences in TV phone-in competitions.

The size of the penalty imposed by U.K. regulator Ofcom reflects the seriousness of ITV’s failure to run phone contests responsibly and the fact that the misconduct was repeated: Millions of viewers were routinely defrauded in competitions staged by high-profile shows including “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway” and “Soapstar Superstar.”

The chairman of Ofcom’s content sanctions committee, Philip Graf, said: “ITV program makers totally disregarded their own published terms and conditions and Ofcom codes. The result was that millions of paying entrants were misled.” The fine, which dwarfs the $3.9 million penalty handed out to GMTV last year for similar abuses, ends months of investigation by Ofcom and negotiations between the regulator and ITV.

The web’s executive chairman Michael Grade said on Thursday: “Ofcom’s announcement today is an appropriate moment to restate ITV’s unreserved apology to the public for breaches that took place between 2003 and January 2007.”

Some observers reckon that ITV has gotten off lightly. The rules state that the company could have been fined up to $136.5 million — 5% of its commercial revenue.