Ofcom rap for radio competition where callers battle for prize
A radio station's Heartless Hotline competition has been found in breach of Ofcom's broadcasting rules after an emotional incident where one woman "stole" £2,000 from another caller.
The competition on Manchester's Key 103 radio station was hosted by Coronation Street star Brooke Vincent and radio presenter Mike Toolan.
The Heartless Hotline sees listeners call in to explain why they should win a particular prize. The prize becomes theirs - but in a twist, other listeners then have 30 seconds to call in and "steal" the prize for themselves.
There was outrage after one caller, Sarah, rang in to request £2,000 to pay for her divorce and for a court order that would enable to her to keep her home - but the cash was taken away by another listener who wanted a holiday.
In an emotional appeal, Sarah, a mother-of-two, said she had discovered her husband was cheating on her two years ago, after which her father had died unexpectedly.
She told Vincent and Toolan: "It has been an awful - I can't tell you what it's been like the last two years... sorry I'm a bit upset."
But listeners were shocked when a woman called Leigh rang to "steal" the money, saying she wanted a holiday.
One listener contacted Ofcom to complain that Sarah's treatment had been "disgusting".
During the competition, Vincent commented: "I think the thing is, it also depends what the person is asking for because someone could ask for a car and it'd not be that bad.
"It's just like, you know, they've stole a car, but when it's that raw and personal, as a divorce, and someone comes on and tells a story, and someone just goes 'yeah'. That's a bit harsh."
The incident breached Rule 2.3 of the code and was found to be offensive to listeners.
Ofcom said : "Sarah and Leigh were allowed to confront one another on air and argue about the extent to which each deserved the prize. At one point, this confrontation continued for over 30 seconds without any form of intervention from the presenters.
"We considered that it was likely that this would have increased the level of offence caused to listeners, because the station allowed this confrontation to occur in the first place and then let it continue uninterrupted."
Two days after the call with Sarah, presenters stepped in when a Heartless Hotline competitor wanted £1,000 to pay off a debt so she could get her mother's ashes.
Toolan blocked the phone lines to prevent another caller from claiming the prize.
After two complaints, Ofcom found that this breached Rule 2.13: "Broadcast competitions and voting must be conducted fairly".
The regulator added: "In Ofcom's view, the fact the licensee considered it necessary to conduct the competition unfairly, further underlined the potential for this competition format to result in offensive content, particularly when the contestant selected to play had particularly sensitive reasons for wanting to win their chosen prize."
The segment was broadcast live on the station's weekday breakfast show between April 18 and 29.
An Ofcom spokesperson said: "When conducting two phone-in competitions, we found this Manchester-based radio station broke our rules on offensive material and to ensure competitions are conducted fairly.
"In one competition, a contestant trying to win money to pay for a divorce and a court order had her prize 'stolen' by a caller who wanted the money for a holiday and the contestant became distressed.
"In the second, a contestant wanted money to pay for the return of her mother's ashes and the presenters intentionally blocked the phone lines, preventing other callers from winning the prize."