Ofcom fines Channel TV for BCA breaches

Friday, October 2 2009, 11:58 BST

By Andrew Laughlin,

Ofcom has fined Channel TV for two breaches of the broadcast code at the British Comedy Awards, including the Ant and Dec voting scandal in 2005.

The regulator today levied 80,000 in penalties on the ITV licence holder in the Channel Islands for serious breaches of voting regulations in 2004 and 2005.

On December 14, 2005, Channel TV allowed the production team to override viewer votes for the People's Choice Award so that Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway got the prize rather than actual winner The Catherine Tate Show.

Among theories explored by the regulator was that Robbie Williams, who presented the award, stipulated that he would only appear at the ceremony if he handed the prize to Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly.

Alternatively, a member of the production team may have changed the winner "as a result of comments made by an employee or employees of ITV Network or ITV".

"Ofcom was frustrated by the lack of cooperation it received from some people involved in the production of the BCA 2004 and 2005 and as a result it was unable to conclude definitively on the full circumstances surrounding the substitution of the winner of the People's Choice Award at the BCA 2005," the regulator concluded.

As Channel TV was appointed the compliance licensee for the BCA in 2004 and 2005, it was responsible for ensuring that the programme complied with the broadcasting code.

Ofcom accepted that Channel TV did not change the winner itself, but it should have safeguarded against the substitution going ahead.

The broadcaster was also found guilty of allowing the voting to close early for the People's Choice Award at the 2004 ceremony. As a result, viewers continued to vote for half an hour after the voting had closed.

Channel TV admitted that both breaches were "entirely unintentional but nonetheless stupid". However, Ofcom lambasted the broadcaster for the transgressions, which "were serious, reckless and repeated".

"The fact that the same failing was repeated a year later was of great concern to Ofcom," said the regulator. "Importantly, had Channel TV adequately carried out its role to ensure compliance then the breaches would have been avoided."

Ofcom added that Channel TV's compliance procedures were "either absent or totally insufficient" in both cases, and also expressed concern that the broadcaster still does not "properly appreciate the extent of its responsibilities for ensuring compliance with the Codes".

Along with the 80,000 fine, Channel TV will have to broadcast Ofcom's findings in a summary on ITV1.

Last month, ITV signalled its intention to introduce an in-house "double compliance" system for vetting all network programming after losing faith in Channel TV's competence.