Ofcom slams TV phone-ins

Media regulator Ofcom has published a damning report into the “systematic failure” by broadcasters using premium rate telecoms services (PRS) in television programmes. Richard Ayre, a non-executive member of the Ofcom Content Board, led the inquiry following a raft of complaints, mistakes and cover-ups in TV quizzes and phone-ins.


Ayre says: “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 programme content.”


The investigation, which began in March, revealed that compliance failures were systemic; revenue generation was a major driver in the growth of PRS; some broadcasters appeared to be in denial about their responsibilities; and that there was an apparent lack of transparency through the supply chain.


Broadcasters were also concerned that there was a lack of clarity between the regulators Ofcom and Icstis.


The inquiry concludes that broadcasters must be made directly accountable for their use of PRS. Recommendations made to the Ofcom board will include amending television broadcasters’ licences to include customer protection, requiring third-party auditing of activity, measures to minimise lost or wrongly charged entries, fairness in competitions and transparency in pricing.


The inquiry also suggests that Ofcom should consider introducing licence changes to radio broadcasters.


Ofcom will consult on the full recommendations as part of its broader participation television consultation. It will review the wider aspects of the co-regulatory relationship with Icstis.


Chief executive Ed Richards says: “This inquiry shows the extent to which there has been a systemic failure of compliance.”


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