THE scantily clad young women beckoning alluringly to male viewers to phone them -- at 97 cent a minute -- during the advertisement breaks in Vincent Browne's political debate show on TV3 may be moved to a slightly later slot following a complaint by a Dublin TD last week.
The ads have been running during the show but on Thursday night, the last of Mr Browne's late-night debates, the 'partyline' ads offering "fun, friendship and maybe more" were run after midnight when the show had ended.
Fine Gael TD Derek Keating has called for the broadcaster to clarify where he stands on the issue.
"I am asking Vincent Browne, who is well known for his hard-hitting and moral stance on issues regarding vulnerable people, whether it is social welfare, unemployment, prisoners, psychiatric patients... where he stands on this," Mr Keating told the Sunday Independent yesterday.
He described the adverts, depicting a young woman on a bed dressed only in her bra and knickers, as "immoral".
"As I sit at home late at night awaiting what is for me and many others a very challenging political programme, I see young, scantily dressed girls on TV3 encouraging and inviting people to participate with them by way of a call centre. I wish to make no bones about it today: given the information I have, I believe this is a cover for prostitution," he told the Dail last week.
But Mr Browne told the Sunday Independent he did not wish to comment, other than to say he had raised the issue of the advertisements with the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in relation to its current inquiries into current affairs broadcasting and that he had discussed the matter with his colleagues in TV3.
The TV station, which charges between €300 and €500 for late-night advertisements, insisted it carried only adverts in line with the "heavily regulated" guidelines set down by the advertising and telecoms regulator, ComReg.
Mr Keating asked a question in the Dail, during which he said: "I do not accept for a moment that what I see on TV3 every night is not sexual entertainment services."
He went on to say that prostitution is rife in the country and readily available in every city and town and it is "inextricably linked with sex trafficking".
Mr Keating welcomed a response from Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, in response to his Dail question, that he would refer the matter to ComReg.
TV3 said it "only carries advertisements for premium-rate telephone services that are licensed by the regulator".
The company added: "TV3 has always held the highest standards of advertising copy clearance and will continue to fully adhere to all regulatory requirements."
ComReg said it "understands that the 1500-numbered services that are referred to . . . are 'chatline' or 'partyline' services. Chatline services are not defined as sexual entertainment services."
InkRed, the company which runs the ads on TV3 and elsewhere and operates the chatlines, said: "Virtual chatline services are an entirely legal and popular form of entertainment."
In solicitors' correspondence with the Sunday Independent, the company said that it would be taking up the issue with Mr Rabbitte and the Ceann Comhairle of the Dail and that Mr Keating's comments were "an abuse of Dail privilege".
InkRed said that chatline services "are provided under strict regulatory guidelines governing how the services are operated and advertised".
The company added: "The comments attributed to Deputy Keating and reported elsewhere should be seen for what they are -- as ill- informed, of another era and potentially damaging to a successful Irish business of 16 years' good standing that operates fully within the law of this country and around the world."
The company said that it would be writing to the Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte and the Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett to protest about Mr Keating's comments made on the floor of the Dail.