Media regulators crack down on digital television channels

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The Independent Online

UK media watchdogs have shut down a television channel and threatened another with closure as part of a wider clampdown on the digital television industry.

StarDate TV - owned by stock market-listed TV Commerce Holdings - has been closed by regulators for ripping off consumers via a premium-rate phone line.

Shares in TV Commerce Holdings collapsed more than 53 per cent after telephone regulator ICSTIS fined the company £25,000.

The company runs the StarDate TV station that is available through Sky television stations. Callers are encouraged to phone premium-rate numbers for dating services as well as psychic readings through the Your Destiny channel. The calls cost around £1.50 a minute.

The regulator found that the company had deliberately kept callers waiting on the line longer than necessary. The TV channels have subsequently been taken off the air.

The company, which is listed on AIM, warned that its business might not be viable as a result of the increased regulatory action. It said its board is currently reviewing options for the business, including a possible delisting of its shares.

The company expects to have a cash balance of £350,000 by the end of the year after reaching profitability over the past six months. Its earnings were boosted by a phone service it launched last year aimed at parents, who paid £3 to arrange a call from Father Christmas to their children.

The company was listed two years ago and is run by former hairdresser Vince Stanzione. The 37-year-old entrepreneur left his family's Luton hairdressing business in the early 1980s to pursue a career as a currency trader.

The telecoms and media regulator Ofcom has also taken action against Television Concepts, the company behind the adult station Look4Love. It has revoked the company's broadcasting licence and imposed a £175,000 fine as a result of repeated breaches of the advertising standards code.

It said the licensee transmits adult material under the title "Babestar.TV Live XXX". The regulator said the material transmitted by the company was deemed "seriously unacceptable".

Ofcom said: "In particular, the extreme explicitness of the language transmitted was of such an adult sexual nature that it was wholly unsuitable for transmission on a free-to-air service."

The Advertising Standards Authority referred the case to Ofcom, after voicing concerns about advertising on the channel.