U.K. call-in shows under fire

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Premium phone-line regulator ICSTIS unveiled a raft of proposals this past week aimed at restoring viewer confidence in the scandal-ridden genre of participation television, where viewers phone in to vote in quizzes or competitions (HR 3/9).

The move, first revealed Wed-nesday, comes after the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Five have all been forced to apologize to viewers after it emerged that they were being encouraged to pay to vote in competitions that had already been closed and that made-up winners were being announced.

Describing some of the activities revealed as "semi-fraudulent," ICSTIS chairman Alastair Graham has given broadcasters two weeks to respond to a slew of allegations of inconsistencies and compliance abuses relating to the use of premium phone lines in such shows as ITV's "The X Factor," Channel 4's "Richard and Judy: You Say We Pay" and Five show "Brainteaser."

Graham warned that though no evidence of a cover-up has emerged, any evidence of criminality will be reported to the police.

"I am anxious that we sort out this pretty grim mess that the broadcast companies have got themselves into," he said in an interview with the BBC. "We need something fairly quick to try to restore consumer confidence."

On Thursday, Five chief executive Jane Lighting was forced to apologize to viewers after it emerged that fictitious winners in its show "Brainteaser" had been announced and that members of the production team had pretended to be contestants.

Earlier in the week, ITV executive chairman Michael Grade was forced to defend quiz channel ITV Play after it emerged that problems with the service could date back as long as two years.
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