GMTV accused of premium phone fraud


LONDON -- GMTV, the ITV morning commercial broadcaster that is 25% owned by the Walt Disney Co., is thought to have been responsible for premium phone line irregularities worth as much as £40 million, according to a BBC documentary to air here Monday night.

The claims made by the BBC1 current affairs program "Panorama" are the latest in a series of allegations concerning the use by TV broadcasters of premium-rate phone lines from quizzes to raise revenue.

The BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and the Five channel are awaiting the outcome of a review by premium phone line regulator Icstis that is expected next month to publish its report into the scandal that appears endemic among broadcasters here.

"Panorama estimates that people spent £45,000 a day or £10 million a year (between 2003 and 2007) trying to enter the GMTV competitions, but said many had no hope of winning once the shortlists had been finalized," according to a statement on the program's Web site.

The alleged fraud appears to have been discovered in routine phone quizzes run by the newsmagazine, in which winners were selected well before voting closed, meaning that thousands of viewers paid premium-rate phone tolls to enter competitions, not knowing that they had no chance of winning.

Reps for Disney declined comment. London-based James Ward, executive director of Walt Disney Television International, represents the studio on the GMTV board.

GMTV said in a statement that it had become aware of the problems but was satisfied that its competitions were now running correctly.

"Just over a month ago GMTV instructed the city accountancy firm Deloitte to carry out a full independent review of GMTV and Opera's current interactive systems and processes. This review has now been completed, and we are confident on the basis of Deloitte's findings and our own research that our competitions are being operated fully in accordance with the code."

GMTV declined comment on the extent of the irregularities between 2003 and 2007.