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Ofcom will take over regulation of all participation TV

Media and telecoms regulator Ofcom will take over the regulation of televised gambling, message board and dating services which earn revenue through premium rate phone lines from September.11 Jun 2010

Following three reviews of 'participation TV', in which programmes are effectively long-form adverts for premium rate phone lines, Ofcom has said that it will take over responsibility for all participation TV services.

"Ofcom, BCAP and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have agreed that, for the time being, Ofcom will be the regulatory body for Participation TV (defined as all types of long-form advertising that are primarily dependent on promotion of Premium Rate Service phone lines, and other paid interaction with content)," said an Ofcom statement on its latest consultation. "This includes services currently regulated by Ofcom (adult chat, psychic, quiz) and others currently regulated by the ASA (gambling, message boards, dating)."

Participation TV services will now be regulated as advertising rather than editorial content in order to comply with EU rules that demand a clear separation between ads and programming, Ofcom said.

"We consider that the changes to the Broadcasting Code benefit viewers and consumers, by maintaining the distinction between editorial and advertising and offering enhanced consumer protection for the latter under the Advertising Code, and benefits broadcasters by increased clarity, consistency and therefore fair competition in the acceptable use and promotion of PRS [premium rate services]," Ofcom's statement on the consultation said.

The regulator conducted an impact assessment on the changes and found that only two kinds of participation broadcasting would be greatly affected: sexual chat and so-called psychic medium services.

If those services were to be regulated as advertising and not programming then they would be unable to broadcast in some circumstances because of restrictions in the Advertising Code, Ofcom said.

Ofcom said that it would change the advertising rules so that the material can appear on the free-to-air digital terrestrial service without being in a 'specialist' section of the electronic programme guide.

The changes will come into effect on 1st September, Ofcom said.