ITV suspends comedy awards over phone vote inquiry

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LONDON, Sep 21 (Reuters) ITV suspended the British Comedy Awards today pending an investigation into reports it encouraged viewers of the 2005 ceremony to vote for their favourite show after the winner had already been chosen.

ITV has asked media law firm Olswang to investigate the claims, the latest in a string of alleged television deceptions that have shaken the industry this year.''Pending conclusion of the investigation, broadcast of the British Comedy Awards 2007 will be postponed,'' ITV said in a statement. ''ITV will not make any further comment regarding this matter until the conclusion of the investigation.'' In July, newspapers reported that ITV had urged viewers of the annual comedy awards show, hosted by Jonathan Ross, to ring a premium-rate line after the vote had closed.

A ''fake TV'' row over the deliberate deception of viewers has engulfed all the major broadcasters this year, including the BBC.

In July, Paul Corley, the managing director of GMTV, which makes ITV's breakfast show, resigned over rigged phone-in competitions.

The phone-in scandal prompted ITV Chairman Michael Grade to announce a ''zero tolerance'' approach to any wrongdoing.

The BBC apologised to the Queen earlier this year for implying in a documentary trailer that she had stormed out of a photo-shoot with celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz.

It revealed four more deceptions on Thursday, including the decision by producers on children's show ''Blue Peter'' to ignore the results of a public vote to name its new kitten.

The British Comedy Awards were launched in 1990 and are broadcast live each year on ITV. Past winners include Ricky Gervais, Matt Lucas and Peter Kay.

REUTERS ARB AS1939

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