Ofcom imposes record radio fine

Secret Sound competition costs GCAP £1.11million

The broadcasting regulator Ofcom has fined GCap Media plc £1,110,000 in respect of unfair conduct in its running of a “secret sound” competition.


The competition, which was broadcast on 30 of GCap’s local radio stations in 2007, invited listeners to phone or text in to win the chance to guess a mystery sound played on air. Following a complaint from a whistleblower, Ofcom launched an investigation into the conduct of the competition. GCap admitted that, rather than selecting entrants randomly, on occasion a listener with an incorrect answer was deliberately taken to air. This had the effect of artificially prolonging the competition and amounted to a breach of Rule 2.11 of the Broadcasting Code which requires that competitions are conducted fairly.


In addition, in July 2007 GCap had been fined £17,500 by the premium rate telephone regulator ICSTIS (now PhonepayPlus), in respect of the conduct of the competition and was therefore in breach of Rule 10.10 of the Broadcasting Code which states that broadcasters using premium rate services must comply with the ICSTIS Code of Practice.


The breaches of Rules 2.11 and 10.10 of the Broadcasting Code, were described by the Ofcom Content Sanctions Committee as “extremely serious”. Ofcom imposed a fine of £37,000 on each of the 30 individual licensees who will now also be required to broadcast a statement of Ofcom’s findings. The total fine is the highest ever financial penalty imposed in respect of the broadcast of radio content, and is the latest in a series of financial sanctions imposed by the regulator in relation to the use of premium rate services.


GCap said it would no longer run premium-rate phone-in competitions for profit after last year’s ICSTIS fine.


5RB’s Victoria Jolliffe assisted Ofcom in its investigation while on secondment to the regulator earlier this year.