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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 18:13 GMT
Phone-ins 'sloppy' says watchdog
By Mark Savage
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Sir Alistair Graham
Sir Alistair says programmes should be more transparent
TV phone-ins have been "sloppy" and broadcasters must act now to restore confidence, says phone watchdog Icstis.

Chairman Sir Alistair Graham said viewers' trust was at "rock bottom" and called for a quality mark to guarantee interactive services were genuine.

On Monday, ITV suspended premium-rate phone-in competitions and votes amid a spate of problems with interactive TV.

But Sir Alistair told BBC News he believed the incidents were "more cock-up than conspiracy".

ITV's Saturday Night Takeaway is the latest programme to come under scrutiny, following reports that viewers were encouraged to enter a competition after the winners had been chosen.

Achieving a fair deal for consumers is absolutely top priority
Sir Alistair Graham
Icstis chairman
Similar claims have been made against the You Say, We Pay quiz on Channel 4's Richard and Judy show.

The BBC's Saturday Kitchen is also being examined by Icstis after viewers were asked to phone in to appear on the following week's programme, despite it being filmed just minutes after the live show.

'Issue of trust'

"I suspect there has been a great deal of sloppiness around," said Sir Alistair, whose organisation regulates premium-rate telephone services.

"Perhaps junior staff have been allowed to take responsibility for these phone-ins, because it all seems to be part of the mechanics of making the programme, rather than an essential issue of trust between the programme-maker and viewer.

Ant and Dec
Saturday Night Takeaway is the latest show to face scrutiny
"Given the recent spate of incidents," he added, "consumer trust in these programmes must be at rock bottom."

Icstis has called a meeting with broadcasters and programme-makers on Thursday to discuss how to restore confidence in premium-rate phone-ins.

Sir Alistair says one solution could be a "kitemark" which will guarantee callers are "participating in a live programme, and that they have a reasonable chance of getting through".

"One of the more recent issues is to let viewers know whether they're watching a live programme or one that was recorded three weeks ago," he added.

"Achieving a fair deal for consumers is absolutely top priority. If we can't achieve that we won't be frightened of advising people not to participate in these programmes."

However, Sir Alistair said it was "in everyone's interests" for the current problems to be resolved.

"Shows like Strictly Come Dancing result in 1.5m being raised for charity," he said.

"It's good that people can watch something which they like, participate in it and feel as if they're making a contribution to a good cause as well."

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