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OfCom criticises Key 103 over Heartless Hotline feature

By | Published on Wednesday 3 August 2016

Key 103

Manchester radio station Key 103 has been found in breach of two OfCom rules after listeners complained about a phone-in feature whereby one caller would request a sum of money, explaining why they needed it, after which other listeners had thirty seconds to phone in to claim said money for themselves. The contest was called the Heartless Hotline.

As an example of what might happen, we can look at one of the editions of the Heartless Hotline that garnered a complaint. Caller one asked for £2000 to pay for a divorce so she could unlock monies from her husband to pay for her family’s living expenses. But then another caller called in to claim the money for a family holiday.

Responding to a complaint about this particular call, media regulator OfCom said that listeners were likely to have felt that the competition caused unnecessary distress or anxiety to the first caller.

It added that the fact the two callers were left to debate on air the relative merits of their respective claims to the money for thirty seconds without presenters Mike Toolan or Brooke Vincent intervening “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”.

But the station’s owner, Bauer, defended both the feature and that specific edition, arguing that “it is vitally important that commercial radio creates interesting, emotive content, including competitions, that engages listeners with not only [this] station but with radio as a medium, so long as due care is taken”. The media firm also noted that only one person had actually complained about that particular phone in.

And as for the poor caller who failed to secure the two grand to pay for her divorce, well, Bauer told Radio Today: “Following the call from a listener who was seeking to win money to cover legal advice for her divorce, Key 103 put her in touch with a legal firm who offered her £2000 – the equivalent value – of advice free of charge”.

Somewhat ironically, given Toolan’s lack of intervention was criticised in the first complaint, the other complaint upheld against Heartless Hotline related to the DJ blocking the studio’s phone lines after one emotional caller said she needed £1000 to pay for a debt so she could receive her mother’s ashes. Toolan felt that caller needed the cash so much that he didn’t want to risk a ‘hearthless’ fellow listener from nabbing the money, though in doing so he broke the rules of his own competition.

On that complaint, Bauer admitted that its programming team broke the rules. The company said that “the programming team is aware that on this occasion they made a poor judgement when the decision was taken to block the phone lines during one round of the competition”.

However, the media company noted the outpouring of support for that caller on social media, adding that the “level of feeling towards this contestant was overwhelming” and it therefore hoped that “the subsequent feedback – whilst not excusing their decision – goes some way to explain why the station felt they were doing the right thing despite non-compliance with the competition rules”.