Wednesday, 30 Jul, 2008 Current Events
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BBC Fined for Cheating Over TV Phone-ins

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The independent regulator and competition authority for the communication industries in the UK, Ofcom penalized the BBC with a record-high fine of ₤400,000 ($791,535) because the corporation faked winners and misled the television audience in several shows. BBC members invited viewers to participate in phone-ins when the contestants, as well as the winners were already chosen.

Viewers were misled in such shows as: Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need hosted by Jo Whiley and Russell Brand.

The watchdog said: "Ofcom considered that these breaches of the (broadcasting) code were very serious. In each of these cases the BBC deceived its audience by faking winners of competitions and deliberately conducting competitions unfairly."

It is worth mentioning that in January 2008 the shows hosted by Russell Brand and Jo Whiley invited viewers to participate in "live competitions" during episodes of the 6 Music and Radio 1 that went on air in 2006.

The regulator reported that developers of the shows were aware of the fact that the audience had absolutely no chance of winning the competitions that BBC was going to launch but still decided to go ahead with the shows anyway.

"The investigations found that, in some cases, the production team had taken premeditated decisions to broadcast competitions and encourage listeners to enter in the full knowledge that the audience stood no chance of winning." "In other cases, programs faced with technical problems made up the names of winners. Overall, Ofcom found that the BBC failed to have adequate management oversight of its compliance and training procedures to ensure that the audience was not misled. Although viewers and listeners paid the cost of their calls to take part in these competitions, the BBC did not receive any money from the entries," Ofcom said.

In March 2007 on BBC1 one of the members of the production team pretended to be the winner of the phone-in competition which took place during the Comic Relief show. The same way members proceeded during another phone-in on Sport Relief in July 2006. In 2005, during the show called Children in Need, the production team decided to read the name of invented winner out on air.

In May, the media watchdog made ITV pay ₤5.68 million for abusing top rate phone services in viewer competitions. Ofcom said that severe editorial issues were spotted on: Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Gameshow Marathon and Soapstar Superstar shows.

The BBC Trust expressed regrets regarding the fact that the fine will cause a loss of license fee payers' money. It stated that BBC made a public apology in summer of 2007 and promised to "put its house in order".

It said: "We recognise that the penalty in these cases reflects that the breaches were serious, deliberate and in some cases repeated. "These editorial failures were serious and, through our work, we are confident they have been taken seriously by those involved. Our concern now is ensuring that the highest editorial standards are maintained to safeguard the public's trust."

The BBC accepted the fact that a number of shows misled viewers.

In a statement the broadcasting corporation said: "We have taken these issues extremely seriously from the outset, apologizing to our audiences and putting in place an unprecedented action plan to tackle the issues raised. This includes a comprehensive program of training for over 19,000 staff, rigorous new technical protections, new guidance to program-makers on the running of competitions and a strict new Code of Conduct. Ofcom has recognized that neither the BBC nor any member of staff made any money from these serious editorial lapses. Whilst we must never be complacent and must remain constantly vigilant, audience research suggests the comprehensive action we have taken is rebuilding the trust of viewers and listeners."

This year sources unveiled that the BBC kept over ₤100,000 ($197,885) of cash earned from a phone-in. This money should have been given to charities. BBC earned the money on phone-ins from about 20 shows, including Eurovision and Fame Academy, held during October 2005 -September 2007.

People were still charged for the phone calls, about 25p (49 cents) time, but money did not go to charities, instead the cash was stored into the bank account of BBC Worldwide, the commercial branch of the broadcasting corporation.

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