Ofcom hits ITV with record £5.67 million fine

Ofcom has fined ITV a record £5,675,000 for “some of the most serious breaches” of its broadcasting code.

The fine is a response to what the regulator described as the “abuse of premium rate services” in ITV’s programming, including the shows Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Soapstar Superstar.

Saturday Night Takeaway, made by LWT, was hit with a £3 million fine for a series of breaches to Ofcom’s code, including selecting finalists before telephone lines were closed in the show’s Grab the Ads competition.

The same competition also staggered the selection of finalists, which meant viewers entering did not have a “fair and equal chance of winning”.

In the show’s Jiggy Bank competition, finalists were selected based on where they lived, despite the fact ITV’s own terms and conditions stated entrants would be chosen randomly.

Meanwhile, Ant and Dec’s Gameshow Marathon, also made by LWT, was fined £1.2 million, following six occasions when winners of the Prize Mountain Competition were selected “based on their suitability to be on screen”.

Soapstar Superstar, made by Granada Television, was fined £1.2 million after results were finalised in one programme before the phone lines had closed. The show’s production team also overrode song choices voted for by viewers “on a number of occasions”.

Ofcom also fined ITV2+1 £275,000 for failing to inform viewers of repeated programmes on 28 separate occasions that interactive competitions had closed.

Ofcom’s content sanctions committee chairman, Philip Graf, said: “ITV programme-makers totally disregarded their own published terms and conditions and Ofcom codes. Further there was a completely inadequate compliance system in place. The result was that millions of paying entrants were misled into believing they could fairly interact with some of ITV’s most popular programmes.”

Responding to the fine, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade said the broadcaster had “totally re-engineered its editorial, compliance and training procedures to safeguard against any recurrence of such breaches of trust”.

He added: ” We have also taken a number of disciplinary measures. Anyone working with or for ITV going forward is in no doubt of the standards expected and the consequences if they fall short. It is clear that these serious breaches of trust were evidence of gross editorial errors of judgement designed, mistakenly, to enhance the viewer experience. In no case is there evidence that there were any corrupt attempts to generate further revenues.”

Separately, ITV today issued the findings of a investigation carried out by law firm Olswang into the the British Comedy Awards 2005, following allegations of phone voting irregularities during the ceremony.

The report found that the People’s Choice award, which was decided by a public vote, wrongly went to Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, and not The Catherine Tate Show, which actually attracted the most votes.

Olswang said there was “insufficient evidence” to say how this occurred, but revealed that Robbie Williams had been invited to present an award, and was reportedly happy to if the recipients were Anthony McPartlin and Declan Donnelly.

The report said: “In order to ensure his attendance, this assurance was given.”

The report said this guarantee was made after the night’s main winners had been decided by a jury and “the only award still to be decided was the People’s Choice award”.

However, it could not be concluded that this led to the wrong winner being announced.

Olswang also found that viewers were deceived because the final section of the 2005 ceremony was broadcast with a half-hour delay to fit around the main nightly news bulletin.

This pre-recorded segment continued to ask the audience to vote for the People’s Choice Award, despite the fact that votes had been counted and the trophy handed out.

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