ITV’s record Ofcom fine over the premium-rate phone-in scandal – and the allegations of vote-rigging at the British Comedy Awards – might not be a journalism story per se, but it raises an important issue about ITV’s accountability.
The Sunday Times revealed this week that the sanction due to be levied on the broadcaster in the Comedy Awards case is likely to be a fraction of what regulators had hoped for, because of a technicality involving how ITV is structured.
The broadcaster is, effectively, a group of individual licences (Granada, Carlton, Meridian, Border etc). And the fines can only be levied against the licence where the programme is registered, not ITV plc as a whole.
The Comedy Awards coverage is registered to Channel Television – a small ITV licence covering Jersey and Guernsey.
Ofcom last week told the Commons committee on media that it would encourage Parliament to bring in new legislation that addresses this anomaly. Until then, it seems ITV cannot be held responsible at corporate level for what Ofcom described as a “systematic and widespread problem”.