Ofcom has fined British breakfast television company GMTV £2 million for the “widespread and systematic deception of millions of viewers”. It is the largest fine that the national communications regulator has imposed on a broadcaster. It comes after their competition phone line provider, Opera Telecom, was fined £250,000 by the premium rate phone line regulator Icstis.

Over an extended period between August 2003 and February 2007, Ofcom found that finalists for competitions on the breakfast television programme had been picked before phone lines had closed, leaving many of them with no chance of winning. It is estimated that at least 18 million viewers were charged more than a pound for each entry with no chance of winning.

GMTV said that between May 2003 and April 2007, 62 million entries were made to its competitions, representing 15-20% of their annual revenue and over a third of their gross profit. Of these, it had estimated that 25 million may be eligible for refunds due to the disenfranchisement caused by early selection, but it was unable to provide accurate figures.

The Ofcom committee took the view that the breaches constituted a substantial breakdown in the fundamental relationship of trust between a public service broadcaster and its viewers, millions of whom ‘purchased’ the right to enter GMTV’s competitions in the belief that they would have a fair and equal chance of winning.

Managing Director, Paul Corley, accepted full responsibility for the failures of the company and previously resigned from his post, along with Kate Fleming, the head of competitions.

Ofcom said the fine would have been higher if GMTV had not already put in place an extensive programme of reparations and remedies, including offering full refunds to any viewers that may have been affected.

Ofcom has also directed GMTV to broadcast a summary of its finding on three separate specified occasions.