Ofcom hits GMTV with record fine

2m penalty over premium-rate phone-in competitions

Media regulator Ofcom has today fined GMTV a record £2,000,000 for misconduct in viewer phone-in competitions between August 2003 and February 2007.

In its ruling, Ofcom said the case “involved the widespread and systematic deception of all those viewers who paid to enter in the belief that they had a fair chance of winning when in fact their chances of winning were diminished or non-existent”.

Ofcom’s investigation found the following types of misconduct in GMTV competitions:

  • Early selection – picking competition finalists before lines had closed. This meant that substantial numbers of viewers who entered the competition stood no chance of being entered into the competition;
  • 15/5 method – selecting 15 competition finalists between 06.00 – 08.30 and the remaining five at 09.00 after the lines had closed. Viewers calling between 08.30 – 09.00 therefore had significantly less chance of being selected as a finalist than those who entered before 08.30; and
  • Final Five – selecting the final five competition finalists before the lines had closed.

Ofcom found GMTV in breach of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code rules that “Competitions should be conducted fairly…” and that GMTV, as licensee, “must retain control of and responsibility for the service arrangements…”.

Ofcom said the breaches “constituted a substantial breakdown in the fundamental relationship of trust between a public service broadcaster and its viewers”. It added that the breaches were “extremely serious” as they involved “longstanding and systematic failures in the conduct of broadcast competitions.” The regulator considered GMTV’s “disregard for the need to operate any reasonable compliance procedure” to be “gross negligence”.

In addition to the fine, Ofcom has also directed GMTV to broadcast a summary of Ofcom’s finding on three separate occasions.

Today’s fine comes two days after the premium-rate phone regulator, Icstis, imposed a £250,000 penalty on GMTV’s telecom service provider Opera Telecom.

Icstis described it as the “worst case” it had ever come across “in terms of the numbers of consumers affected and the amount of money at stake”.