U.K.'s Five hit with record fine

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In a ruling that could have major implications for other U.K. broadcasters caught up in the participation TV scandal here, media regulator Ofcom has imposed on the Five channel its highest-ever fine for a terrestrial channel for its role in the controversy.

Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said Tuesday that the regulator took the issue of compliance abuses seriously and warned that other broadcasters could end up in the firing line.

"We take these issues extremely seriously and will not hesitate to protect viewers' interests. Every broadcaster needs to take very careful note of this decision," he said.

Five has been fined £300,000 ($599,670) for repeated breaches of the broadcasting code relating to its show "Brainteaser," produced by Endemol U.K. subsidiary Cheetah TV.

Ofcom is investigating 20 other complaints against U.K. terrestrial broadcasters charged with misleading viewers participating in onscreen competitions.

BBC1 and Channel 4 are among the networks awaiting Ofcom's review of their conduct.

In the case of RTL-owned Five, the regulator found 12 instances of broadcast code breaches in which fake names were announced as winners, production staff posed as winners or call-in competitions were presented as live when winners had already been selected.

Ofcom said the severity of its fine related to "very serious breaches" in compliance procedures as well as "long-standing failures" to meet program standards dating back to 2003.

In its submission to Ofcom, Five laid the blame for the affair on the production company: "It is clear that, on a number of occasions, Endemol failed to meet its obligations and the standards required of a production company making this kind of programming."

Five chief executive Jane Lighting on Tuesday protested the level of the fine and said that the show, which was suspended in March, will not return to the schedule.

"Five has always accepted that breaches occurred with regard to 'Brainteaser.' However, we are disappointed with the very high level of the financial penalty imposed, especially as we believe Five took all reasonable and appropriate steps to ensure the program complied with the Ofcom Code," she said.
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