Memorandum submitted by Ben R Good
As creator of www.itvplay-scamalert.uk I have
spent several months gathering evidence against television based
premium rate quiz channels that are operating "illegal lotteries".
I believe the Government must intervene NOW to protect the most
vulnerable people in society from this misleading and potentially
dangerous new television format.
For clarification, this document refers to the
specific television format that can be summarized as follows:
A presenter stands in a studio with some form
of puzzle or brainteaser on a screen. Viewers are encouraged to
phone a premium rate number where they are instantly charged as
much as £1, even if they do not get through. Very few callers
actually get through to the programme. The presenter spends long
periods of time doing nothing but repeating the need for viewers
to call. The chances or odds of success are unknown, however even
simple looking questions are often engineered to produce unexpected
answers. Premium rate quiz channels use a series of carefully
calculated methods to mislead viewers and ensure maximum revenue
from calls with minimum payout.
I suggest that the Inquiry consider the following
Under the Lotteries and Amusements
Act 1976, a lottery is the distribution of prizes by chance, where
the persons taking part makes a payment for consideration in return
for their chance at that prize. 20% of all proceeds must go to
good causes. These quiz shows are operating as "illegal lotteries".
The chance of winning is based not upon knowing the correct answer,
but primarily upon having your call answered. Knowing the answer
is a secondary issue. Call TV quiz programmes are attempting to
dodge gambling laws by setting a quiz question or puzzle. This
is blatantly a lottery in a thinly veiled disguise as a game of
Viewers are repeatedly encouraged
to "get dialling" by a presenter who give an impression
of having no callers. As minute after minute ticks by with no
calls answered, the presenter uses statements such as "you
are just a phone-call away from winning, hurry up and call now!".
This is untrue, misleading and in breach Ofcom guidelines. In
reality, many hundreds or even thousands of people may be trying
to call at any time.
Puzzle questions often have
such a difficult, contrived or meaningless answer it ensures no
winners but plenty of premium rate callers trying. For example:
A picture of seven cars with the question"count the
number of cars". The answer will end up being something such
as 543 but with little explanation of why. Or, "name a popular
leisure activity". Answer "tightrope walking in Cumbria".
There is a "free web entry
facility" on ITV PLAY (I am unaware if other programme makers
have the same). This method, as suggested in the media, is an
impossible way to get on air, yet allows the programme maker to
stay within various guidelines by the Gambling Commission. This
entry method is hidden behind several other pages on the ITV PLAY
website, making it difficult to locate. Very rarely do presenters
mention this entry method.
The Times Newspaper recently exposed
a string of misleading tactics that are used to ensure maximum
revenue from calls. The Times took part in The Mint, a
show on ITV Play.
The challenge was to guess what word is jumbled
up in these letters: C O R L F N A K E The presenters gave a string
of clues, including suggesting that "you eat them for breakfast",
and "they taste good covered in chocolate".
The Times telephoned 15 times during the
programme, but failed to get on air, at a cost of £11.25.
The game lasted 10 minutes before the presenter
took a call, a delay that could leave some viewers thinking that
there were few or no callers.
The presenters repeatedly said: "Please
do not delay calling." They never directly commented on the
number phoning in at any point.
The presenters did not mention the free-entry
route, instead insisting: "You need to be making a call."
It was shown on an onscreen ticker.
Please refer to the following newspaper articles
that provide an accurate account of the problems with Call TV
Quiz shows (not printed here).
Please refer to my website for more evidence
including video footage.
12 November 2006