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Regulator allows charging for uncounted TV text votes

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Broadcasters can charge people for TV text message votes received after voting has closed as long as the closing time is made clear to viewers, premium rate phone regulator PhonepayPlus (PPP) has said.

The regulator has updated rules (pdf) introduced in 2008 as a wave of phone vote scandals rocked the television industry. It said that broadcasters had asked it to clarify whether PPP's guidelines would force them to refund texters for messages received when lines had closed.

PPP has changed a number of the 2008 guidelines, and has said that no refunds need to be paid when viewers are informed that a voting or interaction procedure has a deadline and that messages must be paid for even after that deadline.

"It is acceptable for such invalid entries to be charged, provided that the risk of being charged for invalid entries is clearly communicated to the viewer; consumers whose votes/entries are invalid should be clearly informed that their entry is invalid and whether a charge has applied; [and] invalid entries have not been received after lines have been announced as closed as the result of technical failure," said the new guidance.

The new rules also amend the earlier demand that phone lines not remain open when programmes are repeated. The rules now say that phone lines can stay open during repeats as long as the votes received will still be counted.

The rules also stipulate that competition operators must allow enough time for all responses to be considered, even though this might result in different closing times for responses via different media.

"Where multiple entry platforms are used and different closure times apply, this must be clearly communicated to consumers during any call to action," said the new rules.

The rules govern the behaviour of TV producers who, since the rules' introduction in 2008, must first be cleared by PPP before offering any premium rate text voting services on their programmes.

The rules were introduced in 2008 after a string of scandals about vote rigging and misleading practices in TV competitions hit UK broadcasters. ITV was eventually fined £5.67m by media regulator Ofcom for abuse of premium-rate phone lines.

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