Broadcaster ITV has suspended all its premium-rate phone lines amidst a spreading scandal of mismanagement in the multi-million pound premium-rate industry. Broadcasters who increasingly rely on the lines are facing a crisis of public confidence.
ITV has instructed auditors Deloitte to audit all of its premium-rate services and said that none will go on air until it has been cleared.
Meanwhile premium-rate phone regulator ICSTIS (Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of the Telephone Information Services) has welcomed the suspension and is investigating two ITV shows. It will attend a meeting on Thursday with all the affected broadcasters to discuss the issue.
The scandal began when teatime Channel 4 show Richard and Judy was caught up in a row over its premium-rate competition You Say We Pay. Viewers were encouraged to phone in to be selected to play the show on air even after the shortlist of potential contestants had been picked. Viewers were being asked to pay £1 to enter a competition they had no chance of winning.
Several ITV shows have since run into similar trouble. ICSTIS is investigating Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway over its Grab the Ads competition. It will investigate whether or not viewers of that show were also encouraged to call the programme after contestants had been picked.
ITV also admitted last week that it had overcharged Sky Digital viewers of its shows by £200,000 when they were charged 50p instead of 35p to vote in last year's X Factor karaoke competition show.
ITV owns and runs an entire channel dedicated to premium-rate phone gaming, ITV Play. It has been suspended pending internal investigations. ITV Play has already recently undergone an internal audit into its systems.
The suspension of the lines will prove a financial blow to broadcasters. ITV Play earned £26 million in the last six months.
The BBC has also been caught up in the scandal. Viewers were encouraged to phone in to Saturday Kitchen, despite the fact that the show was pre-recorded.
"We believe that all programmes currently on air are compliant," said ITV chief operating officer John Cresswell. "However, in light of recent concern around this issue, something affecting every major broadcaster, we are conducting this independent review to ensure that ITV is meeting all relevant codes and regulations."
"We've asked the auditors to report back to us with some urgency. The interactive elements in each programme will be re-introduced as they are independently signed off. We expect the review of current programmes to be both swift and thorough."
The review could affect this weekend's Dancing on Ice programme, which depends on viewer voting for the selection of losing ice skating celebrities.
"We believe that the industry has a major role to play in ensuring that viewers can take part in TV shows with confidence," said George Kidd, chief executive of ICSTIS. "Today’s announcement by ITV is evidence of a broadcaster taking its responsibility to viewers seriously. We look forward to receiving the review’s findings.”