SGR fined for competition rip-off

SGR FM has been fined by media watchdog Ofcom after it deliberately selected texts with the wrong competition answers in a bid to increase “entertainment value”.

Russell Claydon

SGR FM has been fined by media watchdog Ofcom after it deliberately selected texts with the wrong competition answers in a bid to increase “entertainment value”.

The station was found to have aired incorrect answers to a sound competition as a “pre-mediated” means of stopping the prize being won in early rounds, an investigation has found.

Its Secret Sound competition, which was broadcast in January 2007, deliberately prevented listeners with the right answer from being selected to win the cash prizes.

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The station, broadcast in Ipswich and Colchester, was one of 30 stations run under the GCap Media umbrella to be found guilty of unfair conduct.

Ofcom yesterday announced it was hitting the stations with a record fine of £1.1million - the highest total financial penalty to be imposed for the broadcast of radio content which has been found in breach of the Broadcasting Code.

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A report into the incident said: “Having investigated the case, Ofcom found that the selection of SMS entrants with incorrect answers to be put to air, in contravention of the competition's terms and conditions, was a deliberate and pre-meditated means of preventing the prize from being won in that round.

“This led to another round of the competition, in which the prize fund was greater, thereby increasing the competition's “entertainment value”.

“However, this practice resulted in those listeners who paid to enter the affected rounds having no chance of winning.

“In addition, more listeners were encouraged to pay to enter in the extra rounds before each prize was awarded.

Ofcom found that this practice had been agreed in advance at a programme team meeting by a “Director” with operational responsibility for the content and production of network syndicated programmes.”

The breaches, described as “serious, repeated and deliberate” in the report were also found to have happened at Q103 FM, which broadcasts to Newmarket.

SGR FM will now be forced to carry a summary of Ofcom's findings, including how it ripped off its listeners, on two separate occasions.

The station said it would not be giving any interviews or direct responses over the matter, instead releasing a short statement from GCap.

It read: “The competition ran over 16 months ago. Since then GCap has undergone two senior management changes and a change of ownership, now being wholly owned by Global Radio.

“Today's ruling is taken extremely seriously by GCap. The new management and owners look forward to building a strong future for the commercial radio industry where the trust of its listeners and of its regulator is of the highest importance.

“To that end the new management are already putting in place new measures to build on the already improved controls implemented at GCap and the company has not run premium rate competitions of this kind for the last 12 months.”

GCap was previously stung with a £17,500 fine for the incident by premium rate watchdog PhonepayPlus, which launched an investigation following a complaint by a whistleblower.

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