Channel 4 escapes fine over 'misleading' voting twist

Premium phone regulator ICSTIS will not fine the companies behind Channel 4's Big Brother phone voting lines even though it has deemed the voting process 'misleading'. Channel 4 admitted that it had made an 'oversight' in the competition.

Towards the end of this summer's Big Brother the broadcaster offered viewers the chance to vote back into the house competitors who had already been voted off the programme.

ICSTIS received 2,635 complaints from members of the public when the change to the programme was announced. Voters complained that they had spent money voting housemates out of the show only to see them put back in, making their vote a waste of money.

"Given that the publicly-available terms and conditions on the Big Brother website stated that: “Once a housemate leaves they forfeit any claim to the prize money”, ICSTIS concluded that the editorial change had indeed caused people to feel misled," said the ICSTIS report on its investigation into the matter.

"Channel 4 acknowledged that this had been an oversight and ICSTIS accepted that Channel 4 had not intended to mislead its viewers. On the basis that the terms and conditions had not been appropriately amended, ICSTIS found that its Code of Practice had been breached."

ICSTIS chose not to impose a fine on the companies involved because the cost of the investigation itself, which the companies have to bear, was already significant, it said. "ICSTIS decided that it would not be appropriate to order redress for complainants because the 'misleading' element of the service had not materially changed the outcome of the programme," it said.

The regulator of premium-rate phone services can only fine companies which are registered with it, the service providers hired by other companies to operate contests and other services. Any fine would actually have been levied on iTouch and Minick, who provided the systems for, respectively, the premium landline and text message voting.

An ICSTIS spokesman told OUT-LAW that Channel 4 had co-operated with the investigation and had told ICSTIS that it would cover any costs and financial penalties associated with it.

"In reaching its decision, ICSTIS accepted that Big Brother was an editorially-inventive show, and that the programme’s much-publicised statement that 'Big Brother reserves the right to change the rules at any time' clearly indicated to viewers that they should expect twists and turns in how the show developed," said the ICSTIS ruling.

"However, the unprecedented number of complaints for this type of service, combined with the undoubted strength of feeling shown by the complainants, clearly indicated that voters genuinely felt that they had been misled over this twist," it said.