Collect call: GMTV hit with U.K. fine

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LONDON -- U.K. premium phone-line operator watchdog Icstis has imposed a £250,000 ($505,500) fine for fraudulent phone-in competitions aired on broadcaster GMTV, which is 25%-owned by the Walt Disney Co.

The fine on GMTV's telecoms company Opera Telecom, is the highest the phone regulator has ever imposed, leading to speculation that GMTV itself could face a fine running into the millions of pounds when media regulator Ofcom delivers its verdict on the affair.

"The company has showed reckless disregard for the interests of callers, with scant evidence of any attention to compliance with our code of practice," Icstis said of Opera Telecom's conduct. "Cutting corners for the sake of convenience or to boost revenues is simply unacceptable and has serious consequences."

Icstis found that Opera and GMTV generated more than £20 million ($40 million) from unfair phone-in competitions over a four-year period, thought to cover more than 18 million phone calls.

Icstis is now assessing methods of returning the money to viewers and will report on that process within three months.

GMTV managing director Paul Corely resigned when the scandal was revealed in July, along with head of commercial enterprises Kate Fleming.
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