Panorama alleges GMTV viewers have wasted millions of pounds
Callers to premium-rate phone competitions on the GMTV breakfast show have been defrauded out of millions of pounds, a BBC investigation has found.
Panorama found a company working for GMTV had been finalising shortlists of potential winners "long before" phone lines closed, for the past four years.
GMTV has moved to suspend all phone-in quizzes, but said it was confident it had not breached regulators' codes.
The phone operator, Opera Interactive Technology, denied any wrongdoing.
Panorama estimated people spent £45,000 a day or £10m a year trying to enter the GMTV competitions, but said many had no hope of winning once the shortlists had been finalised.
GMTV presenters Penny Smith and John Stapleton told viewers on Monday: "GMTV knew nothing of this and is shocked to hear of these allegations.
"We are investigating further but do anticipate bringing our competitions back as soon as possible."
GMTV added that its competitions were being run in accordance with the codes of telecoms regulator Ofcom and premium rate watchdog Icstis.
Icstis says it is "chasing" Panorama's producers for their evidence before deciding whether to launch an investigation into the claims.
Panorama said tens of thousands of calls and texts had been made to GMTV competitions every morning since 2003, but Opera had finalised shortlists of potential winners before the phone lines closed.
Panorama also alleged Opera sales director Mark Nuttall had discovered what was going on in 2003 and sent an e-mail to staff telling them to keep it secret from GMTV.
But Opera has denied any wrongdoing.
It said it had conducted a preliminary investigation into the findings, and said there was "not a shred of truth" in any of the allegations.
Panorama said Ofcom has launched a formal investigation following a complaint against GMTV and Opera. But Ofcom has not confirmed that it is related to the same issue.
In a statement, GMTV said the Panorama investigation had uncovered "certain irregularities" in the way Opera had managed its interactive services but GMTV had not been aware of these irregularities.
GMTV said it had conducted an independent review last month, through Deloitte, of its and Opera's interactive systems and processes.
"This review has now been completed and we feel confident, on the basis of Deloitte's findings and our own research, that our competitions are being operated fully in accordance with the codes and that no finalists are being selected before lines have closed," GMTV said.
ITV said GMTV was a separate company and declined to comment further.
Samantha Pedder, 37, from Saffron Walden, told Panorama: "I've spent near on £1,000, but you think, 'Well I'm in with a chance'.
"To find out that I wasn't makes me really angry and I want my money back."
The claims made by Panorama are the latest in a series of allegations concerning the use by TV broadcasters of premium-rate phone lines to raise revenue.
The BBC programme also explores similar controversies over a competition run on the Richard and Judy Show and Blue Peter.
Blue Peter recently apologised because a member of the show's production team asked a girl visiting the studio to pose as the winning contestant in a phone-in competition because of a "technical problem".
Panorama: TV's Dirty Secrets can be seen on BBC One at 2030 BST on Monday 23 April
Ofcom has since fined GMTV £2,000,000 for misconduct in viewer competitions between August 2003 and February 2007. This is the largest financial penalty to be imposed against a broadcaster by Ofcom. GMTV was found in breach of the following rules:
Rule 2.11 of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code, which came into effect on 25 July 2005: "Competitions should be conducted fairly..." and Rule 8.2(b) of the ITC (Independent Television Commission) Code 2002: "Use of Premium Rate Telephone Services in Programmes: The licensee must retain control of and responsibility for the service arrangements..."
In particular, Ofcom's investigation found the following types of misconduct in GMTV competitions:
Early selection - picking competition finalists before lines had closed. This meant that substantial numbers of viewers who entered the competition stood no chance of being entered into the competition;
15/5 method - selecting 15 competition finalists between 06.00 - 08.30 and the remaining five at 09.00 after the lines had closed. Viewers calling between 08.30 - 09.00 therefore had significantly less chance of being selected as a finalist than those who entered before 08.30 and Final Five - selecting the final five competition finalists before the lines had closed. Ofcom has also directed GMTV to broadcast a summary of Ofcom's finding on three separate occasions. The full adjudication is available at:
Ofcom Content Sanctions Committee: Adjudication
This is one of a number of current Ofcom investigations into individual programmes in the area of Participation TV. These are being dealt with on a case-by-case basis, Ofcom will be concluding these investigations over the next few months.