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GMTV phone-in scandal

Mail on Sunday Newspaper - September 2007

Daily Mail- September 2007.

This story was sold to the Daily Mail newspaper and revealed how the GMTV phone-in competitions were even more unfair than first thought.

Our source revealed that 'overflow' lines were set up which meant millions of pounds worth of viewers calls never had any chance of winning.


Read the full story below:

Viewers have been duped out of millions of pounds in another round of ITV phone-in competitions they had no chance of winning. 

Tens of thousands dialled premium-rate numbers to take part in GMTV quizzes.

But they were diverted into an "overflow" telephone system where they were charged but never considered for prizes.

Yesterday a whistleblower claimed the money conned out of viewers could run into tens of millions of pounds.

On at least six days last year, no phone entries were counted at all after problems with the telephone system and winners were picked from text messages.

GMTV - which is majority-owned by ITV - is already facing separate claims it fleeced viewers of up to £40million over four years by picking winners in phoneextremelyins before the lines closed.

It is facing an expected fine of £2.8million from media regulator Ofcom.

The latest development follows months of lurid allegations that broadcasters have been conning their viewers.

Only on Thursday the BBC admitted a new series of lapses in honesty.

The latest instances included the Blue Peter children's show, whose staff ignored the result of an online poll to name a kitten.

BBC bosses revealed three other shows had also duped viewers - on top of previous admissions that competition winners had been faked on shows including Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need.

The BBC is still in the midst of an internal investigation after footage of the Queen appeared to show her storming out of a photo shoot when she had done nothing of the sort.

ITV has yet announce the results of its own internal trawl of programmes which have misled viewers.

The picture emerging is thought to be damaging to the broadcaster.

In the latest phone-in fakery, the whistleblower, who worked for GMTV's phone operator Opera, said the firm could handle only 1,250 calls from viewers at one time.

Opera set up an "overflow" system with other telephone companies, including BT, to handle the extra calls that would be made at busy times.

The whistleblower claims thousands of additional callers who got through to the BT lines were still asked to give their details and charged the normal competition rate up to £1.80.

But it was actually impossible for them to win as their entries were never included in the pool of possible winners.

It is thought more than 30,000 calls a day were never entered into competitions. On busy days the figure could have been as high as 80,000.

The so-called "overflow" lines were run by BT for GMTV from January 4, 2006.

The whistleblower said: "As soon as the Opera phonelines were filled you'd then go to the overflow lines. Everyone that went onto the overflow would not have a chance of winning. Their entries would just go into a black hole.

"When the presenters would announce a big competition on screen there could be a rush of 10,000 calls. That means 8,750 wouldn't even be entered."

The Opera insider has passed a series of damning emails to premium phone line regulator ICSTIS which is investigating GMTV's activities along with Ofcom.

The whistleblower said: "Overflow callers would hear the same message, leave their details and be charged the standard rate but never actually be entered into the competition."

ICSTIS yesterday confirmed it was aware of the issue of Opera's overflow system.

GMTV suspended all phoneins in April - and terminated the Opera contract - after the original allegations.

Yesterday a GMTV spokesman said: "Opera Telecom is under investigation by ICSTIS and it would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this time.

"However we can assure viewers that any new evidence will prompt further inquiry by GMTV and our outside experts."

A spokesman for Opera said: "Opera Telecom has repeatedly apologised unreservedly for the occurrence of these errors", adding there were "new processes and procedures now in place to ensure this never happens again".

Yesterday ITV announced it was dropping coverage of the British Comedy Awards after voting irregularities surrounding the People's Choice Award.

The problem is thought to relate to the 2005 ceremony, when Ant and Dec won the People's Choice award. Organisers said the awards will go ahead and may be broadcast on another channel.

Director Misled ITV on Alzheimer's

The film-maker behind the documentary which falsely claimed to show the dying moments of an Alzheimer's patient was blamed yesterday for misleading viewers.

Paul Watson failed to set straight the "clear misapprehension" over the ITV programme Malcolm and Barbara: Love's Farewell, an independent inquiry said.

ITV's publicity for the documentary claimed Malcolm Pointon, 66, died in the final scene. In reality, he died three days after filming ended.

The inquiry - which was commissioned by Michael Grade, the chairman of ITV --said the broadcaster had "wrongly understood" that Mr Watson had actually filmed the moment of Mr Pointon's death.

It added: "This misunderstanding arose from the ambiguity of the language used by Paul Watson to describe his filming and his film and also the ambiguity of its final scenes."

After the truth was revealed by Mr Pointon's brother Graham on July 30, ITV insiders claimed Mr Watson had made no attempt to correct publicity material he was sent for approval beforehand.

But the director - who the report said did not deliberately mislead the network - insisted the broadcaster refused his request to make clear the programme did not show the dying man's final moments.

ITV was not criticised in the report.

But it admitted making mistakes and plans to introduce "more stringent processes" when dealing with freelance film-makers.

John Beyer, of the campaign group Mediawatch UK, said ITV should not have escaped censure.

He declared: "Broadcasting someone dying is not an everyday occurrence. When dealing with something as important as this, ITV should have been much more thorough."