TQS Responsible for Breaches of Contest Standards on Call TV broadcasts, Says Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Ottawa, August 19, 2009 – The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) today released the Quebec Regional Panel’s decision concerning the broadcast by TQS (Montreal) of the French-Canadian version of a European television show known here as Call TV.  The premise of the program was found in its name, Call TV; viewers were encouraged to call the on-screen 1-900 number or text (SMS) their solutions to the various puzzles that appeared on the screen in order to win cash prizes (the contestants were charged $1 for each 1-900 call or text message, that being the program’s source of revenue).

The CBSC received hundreds of complaints, in writing and by telephone, about Call TV.  Those complaints covered a very broad range of issues, touching on: callers’ frustration with the inaccessibility of the program personnel (whom they were induced to call); the callers’ bills, sometimes amounting to hundreds of dollars; the allegation that these bills included charges for calls they did not succeed in making (e.g. calls resulting in busy signals, for which hosts had assured the audience they would not be billed); the apparent unfairness of some, at least, of the contests; misrepresentations made by the hosts regarding some of the contests; the inexplicable frequent absence of calls for relatively long periods, and sudden, last-second success in callers getting through; and so on.  Those issues which arise from the broadcasts themselves fall within the mandate of the CBSC.  Those relating to off-air activities, such as billing for unconnected phone calls, do not.

The Quebec Panel concluded that the program was not an infomercial, as the broadcaster had claimed, but rather paid programming in the form of a series of contests.  The Panel found problems with all of the mathematical puzzles.

First of all, there were no successful callers among those the program’s producers chose to be on air.  Nor were any of the Adjudicators, without any time pressure whatsoever and having the answers in front of them as provided by the hosts at the end of each such contest, able to justify or explain the answers given.

While this has of course raised doubts in the minds of the Adjudicators as to the legitimacy of the foregoing puzzles, what is more important to them is the inherent absence of transparency for the audiences.  Audiences ought to be able to know or understand the rules of a contest and the transparency of the outcome, particularly when they are being asked to spend money to enter them. […] Where, contrary to the reasonable and customary examples of the foregoing contests, the inherently dubious outcome is neither evident nor explained, the Panel considers that the absence of transparency renders the conduct of the contest neither fair nor legitimate, as required by Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

The contest that the Quebec Panel found most misleading on its face was the name-guessing game of July 12.  Audiences were invited to guess which ten first names with the second letter “a” were in the envelopes held by the host.  In order to induce people to believe that they had a chance and, therefore, to spend $1 per call or text message, the host continually made the point that the names were familiar, simple, known, common.  The Panel concluded that they were anything but common.

While the correct guesses Marc, David, Jacques and Laurent all fell easily into the familiar, known, common category, the remaining Pancho, Hakan, Gabor, Darko, Lamar and Nanno did not.  […] [T]hey were obscure, remote and extremely uncommon to the audience at which the French-Canadian incarnation of Call TV was aimed.  This contest was nothing short of misleading and thus in violation of Clause 12 of the CAB Code of Ethics.

Although the broadcaster attempted to shirk any responsibility for the program, asserting that “TQS is merely the means of broadcasting this paid program” and advising complainants “to contact Mass Response TV [the apparent producer] for information on all conditions and procedures, regulations and verifications applying to this program,” the Quebec Panel explained that, under both the private broadcaster Codes and the Broadcasting Act, “TQS bears full responsibility for any breach of the CAB Code of Ethics flowing from the broadcast of Call TV.”

Canada’s private broadcasters have themselves created industry standards in the form of Codes on ethics, equitable portrayal, television violence and journalistic independence by which they expect the members of their profession will abide.  In 1990, they also created the CBSC, which is the self-regulatory body with the responsibility of administering those professional broadcast Codes and the pay television Codes, as well as the Code dealing with journalistic ethics created by the RTNDA – Association of Electronic Journalists in 1970.  More than 725 radio stations, satellite radio services, television stations and specialty services from across Canada are members of the Council.

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All CBSC decisions, Codes, links to members' and other web sites, and related information are available on the CBSC's website at www.cbsc.ca. For more information, please contact the CBSC National Chair, Mme Andrée Noël CBSC Executive Director, John MacNab