Ofcom considers handing regulation of quiz shows to ASA

LONDON - Ofcom is looking at handing the regulation of quiz, psychic and adult chat shows to the Advertising Standards Authority, as part of its proposal to strengthen consumer protection for participation television.

The regulator is seeking views on three options for tighter guidelines for participation television, which include: licensing the shows as advertising and handing regulation to the ASA; licensing the shows as editorial but subjecting them to tighter rules under the Broadcasting Code; or licensing them as editorial, but with a requirement to carry labelling to ensure that viewers understand the commercial nature of the content.

Quiz, psychic and adult chat shows are currently regulated by Ofcom as editorial content under its broadcasting code, but Ofcom said future regulation of these services must ensure that advertising and editorial are kept separate.

Participation television is programming that invites viewers to interact, most often by using premium rate telephone services or by using red button technology.

Last week, Ofcom published its five-month investigation into the premium rate phone line scandal, which found some broadcasters were "in denial" about their responsibilities and revealed their "systemic failure" to comply with rules.

The premium rate phone scandal has tainted a number of shows across UK networks, including BBC's 'Blue Peter' and 'Saturday Kitchen', and Channel 4's 'Richard & Judy'.

Premium-rate regulator ICSTIS subsequently handed out a record £150,000 fine to Eckoh UK, the premium-rate service provider for Richard & Judy's 'You Say We Pay' competition and Ofcom fined the BBC £50,000 for the incident in which a member of the 'Blue Peter' production team posed as a viewer when a competition entrant could not be found.

The BBC subsequently admitted last week to six other instances when production staff passed themselves off as viewers, or where fictitious winners were invented, including the 'Comic Relief' programme screened in March.

Richard Ayre's inquiry concluded that some broadcasters were skirting their responsibilities to ensure programmes delivered on the promises they made to viewers in phone-in competitions and that broadcasters should be held directly accountable for their use of premium rate services.

Today Ofcom set out proposals to implement the inquiry's recommendations. These include new licence obligations for television and radio broadcasters, which will hold broadcasters directly responsible for consumer protection and premium rate compliance, as well as a requirement for television and radio broadcasters to ensure independent third party verification of PRS activity.

Ofcom will take responses regarding its proposals until October 17.