Watchdog seeks ban on newspaper phone sex adverts

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The Independent Online
THE watchdog for telephone information services has called for a clampdown on advertisements for services of a sexual nature, including a proposal to allow them in 'top shelf' publications only.

The proposal would hit the Daily Star and the Sport newspapers, which are believed to be the only national newspapers currently carrying the type of advertisements causing concern.

The Sport's revenue from such advertising is thought to be about pounds 2.5m a year. A source at the newspaper acknowledged that adult telephone services account for a large chunk of overall advertising revenues.

There was no one available to comment at the Daily Star.

The ban would also affect a range of other generally available and unsolicited publications.

The proposal has been put forward by the Independent Committee for the Supervision of Standards of Telephone Information Services (ICSTIS), which is concerned that complaints about advertising 'adult entertainment' services continue to pour in. This is in spite of previous attempts to restrict what can be included in the advertisements.

The proposal to limit the advertisements to all but 'top shelf' publications comes in the latest draft code of practice from ICSTIS. The body also suggests a more lenient alternative, banning any pictures or words which are likely to cause offence.

However, a spokesman for ICSTIS said that even the more onerous proposal may not be enough to satisfy aggrieved members of the public and some MPs.

The watchdog has also called for a total ban on the use of videophones for both sexual and one- to-one chat services.

British Telecom is expected to launch a videophone at the Ideal Home Exhibition later this month, and ICSTIS said: 'The committee has carefully considered the impact of services containing pictures as well as sound.'

It added: 'It has decided to take pre-emptive steps to prevent any possible abuse of new technology to provide unacceptable images.'

A further clampdown in the draft code would prevent the unemployed from paying high telephone call charges to hear about non-existent jobs.

In the past some services have asked people to ring in at prime rates of up to 48p a minute to hear about jobs. Callers have often listened to lengthy messages, only to subsequently find that the jobs do not exist, or that there are only a few to be had.

According to a spokesman for the ICSTIS: 'An awful lot of people have been conned, if only for small amounts.'

Under new proposals, advertisements will be required to state the cost of the call, the type of work and the location, and any further investments applicants would have to make.

The services will also have to give the total number of jobs available and remind callers frequently how much they are paying for the call.

ICSTIS, which is a self-regulatory industry body, has the powers to cut off services if they breach the code.

However, the widely-respected committee is now asking for the ability to fine people as well. The fines would be based on the revenues generated by the offending service - which could run to many thousands of pounds - as well as on the severity of the offence.

ICSTIS is asking for responses to its latest proposals by 30 April.

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