Watchdog says Play TV programme is unfair

October 4, 2009
John Burns

The broadcaster TV3 has promised to make changes to a controversial late-night quiz show after the Broadcasting Complaints Commission (BCC) criticised it as “unfair” and “misleading”.

Up to 20 complaints have been made to the BCC about Play TV, which is broadcast live nightly from midnight to 3am. The first two were upheld at a board meeting last week.

The BCC found that the rules of one game were changed during the programme, “which was unfair”, that a graphic was “misleading” and that producers “misrepresented the monetary prize available”.

To take part, viewers ring a premium rate number, which costs €1.50 from a landline and up to €2 from a mobile, in the hope of being connected to the studio. Few are.

Having viewed the August 14 broadcast, the commission ruled that “the format of presentation and the techniques used amounted to the quiz being conducted unfairly”. Its decisions are to be published this week.

TV3 said the Dublin station would be having talks with Telemedia, the Hungarian company that produces the show. “We will be making sure these issues are resolved. This will be dealt with as quickly as possible,” said a spokeswoman. She claimed only 16 complaints have been made, many from the same people: “The majority of the complaints are technical. It sounds worse than it is.”

The BCC also examined the broadcast of June 16, in which the game was “What is white?” There were two possible answers. While the presenter took calls at the start, during one 30-minute period no calls were taken. The commission noted that “the viewer is not fully informed of the nature of the rules”, is given no indication of what chance their call has of getting through and is “not fully informed of the randomness” of the quiz.

The presenter said €6,000 would be won by whoever guesed both answers, but one caller who correctly guessed the first — soya milk — was given €3,000 but no opportunity to guess the second. This was “white alligator”, which the BCC said was “not reasonable”, “extremely obscure” and “difficult to guess”.

“The commission noted that there were a number of claims made by the presenter and techniques used that were likely to mislead viewers,” said the BCC.

“While the presenter stated on a number of occasions that the game had to end, it did not. Viewers were likely to be misled by the presenter making such claims and by the incoherent use of countdown techniques.” The format and techniques used “amounted to the quiz being conducted unfairly”, it said, adding: “There is a lack of transparency about the chances of being connected to the studio.”

The broadcast of August 14 was also found to be in breach of the general advertising code. That night a conveyor belt emptied money into a box and viewers were told a correct answer would win that sum.

While the presenter did count the money for a while, later on he said he did not have time and would instead “guarantee” €2,400. The complainant said this was a huge understatement of the amount.

The BCC said the rules of the game had been changed: “The use of a prominent visual of money falling from the conveyor belt was misleading and misrepresented the actual monetary prize available.”

As well as upholding the complaints, the BCC expressed “disappointment” with TV3’s response, which was “general in nature and did not address the specific issues raised”.

The complainant, who did not wish to be named, said yesterday: “The programme is morally abhorrent in its present form and I would welcome any chnages to make it fairer.”

Play TV is made in Hungary using Irish presenters Lauren Bannon, Fiona Mulhall and J G Murphy. It has been criticised since its first broadcast in June. Complaints have included claims that some puzzles are impossible to answer or have several correct answers, or that an answer given as correct is wrong.

After some puzzles the presenter has not explained the methodology used. TV3 said this would be addressed with Telemedia. “There are an average of eight winners a night and the amount given out in prizes is between €250,000 and €500,000 over the three months the programme has been on,” it said.

“This information is published on the Play TV website. The principle is the same as that used by other broadcasters who have premium rate numbers for competitions.”

Ulster Television also runs an interactive late-night quiz show that encourages viewers to ring a premium-rate number on the off-chance of getting through to the studio. Brain Box has not drawn anything like as much criticism.