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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 16:49 GMT 17:49 UK
'Tougher rules' for TV phone-ins
Ofcom's logo
Ofcom wants to ensure "fair and consistent treatment" for viewers

New measures to protect people who ring premium-rate telephone lines offered by broadcasters have been proposed by media regulator Ofcom.

TV channels and radio stations could be found in breach of their licence conditions and face tough sanctions if viewers or listeners are ripped off.

There could also be stricter rules for those dialling quiz shows, "adult chat" channels or psychic services, it said.

Ofcom is seeking views on the plans as part of a consultation process.

Ofcom has already found a "systematic failure" in the way TV channels have run premium rate lines.

An inquiry published last week suggested that broadcasters saw phone-ins as a way to make money and were "in denial" about the need to run them responsibly.

'Treat as advertising'

One new proposal for "participation" shows is that callers would have to "directly contribute to, or influence, the editorial content of the programme".

So if a viewer dialled a channel offering psychic services, the broadcaster would need to ensure they reached a psychic who appeared on screen.

If they were connected to someone who could give them a reading off-air - something which an Ofcom spokeswoman said did occur - then this would breach the regulatory code.

Another suggestion is the reclassifying of these programmes so they are billed as containing advertising, rather than editorial.

Then they would have to comply with strict rules set by the Advertising Standards Authority, as well regular broadcasting guidelines.

Such shows could be made to carry on-screen labels explaining the commercial nature of their content to viewers.

Ofcom has also suggested using a third-party organisation to verify the way broadcasters run the phone lines, to make sure any discrepancies or problems were spotted.

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