ITV has been forced to offer viewers a refund after its flagship show Britain's Got Talent was slammed for breaching the code over winning act Jules O'Dwyer and her performing dog Matisse.
The broadcaster failed to ensure viewers were not “materially misled” around the act, in which a doggy double called Chase walked across a tightrope in front of unsuspecting viewers. Ofcom received more than 1,100 complaints when it emerged that the dogs had switched – which only came to light during a subsequent interview with O'Dwyer on chatshow Lorraine.
ITV's share price was down 0.8 per cent in afternoon trading.
“Although the licensee (ITV) may not have intended to deceive viewers, the presentation for the act Jules O'Dwyer and Matisse not only had the potential to mislead, but was likely to have done so,” Ofcom said.
The watchdog said it was “concerned” by ITV's admission that compliance representatives were not aware of the role played by Chase.
“In circumstances where viewers are encouraged to participate in a vote, especially when they are invited to pay to do so, licensees have a particularly responsibility to ensure that viewers are clear what they are voting for,” Ofcom said.
“In this case, the fact – as evidenced by numerous complainants to Ofcom – many viewers were not aware that a central part of the dog agility act was performed by a second animal, indicates the licensee did not take sufficient steps to ensure the broadcast was not materially misleading.”
O'Dwyer won a cash prize of £250,000. Viewers voted via phone or text, at a cost of 50p per call, 15p of which was donated to charity, or for free through the BGT app.
An ITV spokesperson said: "The Britain’s Got Talent production team apologised at the time for not making it clearer to the judges and viewers at home that three dogs were involved in the final performance. There was never any intention to mislead viewers and in their decision Ofcom said they 'have no reason to believe that there was any intention to deceive viewers that the tightrope walk actually involved a second dog'."
"The majority of votes cast for Jules’ act were received through the free voting app. However, we accept that some viewers who voted for the winning act by a paid voting route may wish to seek a refund, or that the cost of their vote be donated in full to the Royal Variety charity.
"Details about how to obtain a refund, or to request that a refund be donated to the charity, are now on our website."