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Ofcom Launches Vote Line Inquiry

David Murphy

Communication industries regulator Ofcom has announced an inquiry into the use of premium rate telecoms services (PRS) in television programmes. The enquiry will cover premium rate landline calls, and text messages, used for TV vote lines, competitions, and interactive TV games.
Ofcom points out that viewers and a range of other stakeholders have raised serious concerns with the regulator, regarding apparent systematic compliance failure on the part of a number of broadcasters, whose actions appear to contravene existing consumer protection rules.
The inquiry will be led by Richard Ayre, who is a non-executive member of the  Ofcom Content Board,  which is a committee of the main Ofcom Board, with delegated and advisory responsibility for a wide range of content issues. The inquiry will include extensive input from the premium rate services regulator, ICSTIS, which is already investigating a number of individual cases. Richard Ayre expects to report his findings to the Ofcom Board and the Content Board by early summer.
The inquiry will examine consumer protection issues and audiences' attitudes to the use of PRS in television programmes; the benefits and risks to broadcasters in the use of PRS in programmes; the respective compliance and editorial responsibilities of broadcasters, producers and telecoms network operators and others involved in those programmes; and the effectiveness of broadcasters' and telecoms operators' internal compliance procedures, guidelines and arrangements to ensure compliance with Ofcom and ICSTIS codes. The inquiry will also propose recommendations on actions necessary to restore confidence and trust.
Widespread concern about the use of premium rate telephone lines by broadcasters and editorial standards in those programmes has raised serious questions about trust between broadcasters and viewers says Ofcom Chief Executive Ed Richards. Ofcom has been monitoring the issue closely and has launched a number of individual investigations since the start of the year. However, it is clear from the number of cases underway that a broader set of issues need to be examined as a matter of priority. This inquiry will seek to establish the root cause of the compliance issues which have emerged over recent weeks, and inform key decisions about protecting consumers."

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