Ofcom hits ITV with record fine over phone-in scandal

Media regulator Ofcom has fined ITV a record 5,675,000 fine for institutionalised failings in the premium phone rate service scandal that engulfed the broadcasting industry last year. The amount is almost 2m more than ITV was expecting and almost treble the previous biggest fine.

Media regulator Ofcom has fined ITV a record £5,675,000 fine for “institutionalised failings” in the premium phone rate service scandal that engulfed the broadcasting industry last year. The amount is almost £2m more than ITV was expecting and almost treble the previous biggest fine.

Ofcom says the amount is for “some of the most serious” breaches of its Broadcasting Code, relating to hit shows including Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Ant & Dec’s Gameshow Marathon and Soapstar Superstar.

A statement reads: “The fine, which is by far the highest imposed by Ofcom or any of the previous regulators, reflects not only the seriousness of ITV’s failures but also their repeated nature.” The previous highest fine imposed by Ofcom was £2 million on GMTV, part owned by ITV, in September 2007.

ITV has already pledged an additional £7.8 million for viewer compensation and to charity, which the regulator says it took into account when reaching its decision.

Ofcom’s investigation considered information voluntarily supplied by ITV from its review by auditors Deloitte and also material obtained by Ofcom during its own investigations.

For various offences between January 2003 and October 2006 Ofcom fined the broadcaster £3m and directed it to broadcast a summary of its findings two times on ITV1. A fine of £1.2m is levied for various offences between September and October 2005 in Gameshow Marathon. Again, the broadcaster must broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s findings on two occasions. Another £1.2m of the total relate to offences on Soapstar Superstar, aired on ITV1 in January last year.

Further penalties related to repeats of programmes on ITV2 1, where the broadcaster failed to inform viewers that interactive competitions had finished, or that a programme was not live, meaning that they had no chance of winning for entering but were still charged. Further shows, including I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!, also fell foul of the regulator’s code, although allegations relating to X Factor were cleared.

Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards says: “This was a thorough set of investigations which uncovered institutionalised failure within ITV that enabled the broadcaster to make money from misconduct on mass audience programmes.”

ITV executive chairman Michael Grade (pictured) says: “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.”

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