ICSTIS has fined Eckoh UK Ltd, the service provider responsible providing premium rate call services to the Richard and Judy show and their daily quiz segment, You Say, We Pay, £150,000 for breaches of the ICSTIS code of practice.
Earlier this year it came to light that shortlists of potential winners for the quiz were regularly being chosen 25 minutes before phone lines closed. Indeed, ICSTIS’ investigation found that between 29 January and 15 February 2007, Eckoh usually sent the winner shortlist to production company, Cactus by 5:11, despite the phone lines still being promoted in the programme not closing until 5:38. It was found that 47% of all calls received fell after the potential ‘winners’ had been chosen, and that the calls had generated £176,536.37 in this period (Eckoh’s share was £2,873.69). Revenue for the competition in the years 2005-2006 had been close to £3 million (around 60% was paid out in prize money).
Eckoh, accepting the validity of the allegations against them were ‘inescapable’ argued that some of the blame lay at the doors of Cactus and Channel Four. ICSTIS reminded Eckoh that under paragraph 3.1.1 of the Code is that they are “responsible for ensuring that the content and promotion of all of their premium rate services (whether produced by themselves, information providers or others) comply with all relevant provisions of this Code”. The Code also requires service providers (at paragraph 3.3.4) to “bring the Code to the notice of any information providers with whom they contract in respect of the provision of premium rate services and must, in that contract, require that information providers comply with the Code”. In this case the information providers were Cactus, and Channel Four.
ICSTIS agreed that information providers must comply with the provisions of this Code “where applicable to them or to the service and/or promotion with which they are concerned”; but unless all the parties – with permission of ICSTIS – have agreed that an information provider will ‘step into the shoes’ of the service provider, then it is solely the service provider who is responsible for ensuring code compliance by all involved. It therefore found Eckoh’s heavy reliance on the alleged acts and omissions by Cactus and Channel Four to be misplaced; however it noted that such allegation were likely to be of interest to Ofcom who are already investigating this case under the Broadcasting Code.
In this case, ICSTIS felt it was clear that there was a serious failure of management and communication within the company were evidence provided showed people within the company were ware of the basic facts of the breach but whose response was slow and inadequate. There was also no evidence that staff had been adequately trained on compliance procedures to ensure the service was compliant. Whilst finding no intent to defraud the public it did show a ‘reckless disregard for the public interest’.
The Executive regarded the breach as a very serious one and had intended to impose a fine of £250,000. The Panel however decided that whilst it agreed on the serious nature of the breach, that Eckoh’s cooperation with the investigation had been exemplary, its compliance record good, it had implicitly recognised its shortcomings by ‘introducing an admirable and comprehensive range of measures to ensure compliance in the future’ and the panel did not foresee any likelihood of any further similar breach by Eckoh in the future.
It seems clear in this case that the real money being made here was by Cactus and Channel Four. This and the £300,000 fine dished out by Ofcom to Channel Five should put Cactus and Channel Four on notice of the kind of fines they are likely to receive when Ofcom completes its investigation into this case.