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BBC slapped with record £400,000 fine for misleading viewers over TV phone-ins


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BBC slapped with record £400,000 fine for misleading viewers over TV phone-ins


By Paul Revoir

Last updated at 2:56 PM on 30th July 2008



The BBC has been hit with a record £400,000 fine for 'premeditated fakery' in a string of shameless phone-in rip offs.

Licence fee payers were repeatedly duped after the broadcaster let people enter competitions they had no chance of winning and faked winners.

A string of shows including trusted charity fundraising programmes, Comic Relief, Children in Need and Sport Relief, were revealed to have been guilty.

Media regulator Ofcom savaged the 'premeditated fakery' and 'deliberate deception' across shows which combined to make a record sanction.

article-0-0131E3C7000004B0-857_468x286.jpg Sir Terry Wogan and Pudsey Bear advertise Children in Need which was one of the shows censured by Ofcom

The fine dwarves the previous record of £50,000 for the BBC which was handed out last July, when a fake competition winner appeared on the Blue Peter.

In total Ofcom ruled on eight cases, four in TV and four in radio, finding the corporation had 'breached the trust' of its audience with its behaviour.

Officials at the regulator said the deception had been made worse as it involved charity and children's programmes on top of the BBC's trusted reputation.

article-1039761-01DDF3B6000004B0-627_233x423.jpg Jo Whiley was forced to make an on-air apology after a staff member phoned up her show pretending to be a member of the public


Politicians last night branded the BBC's antics 'completely disgraceful' and called for a proper fraud probe by police, who have so far refused to investigate.

This comes after ITV was fined a record £5.7 million for phone-in scandals earlier this year and GMTV was hit with a £2million punishment by Ofcom.

Channel 4 was also fined £1.5 million for misconduct involving phone-in competitions on Richard And Judy and Deal Or No Deal.

The BBC is controversially protected from big fines like ITV's punishment as it is a publically funded organisation, which played a factor in its punishment.

The money from the latest fine will be handed over to Treasury coffers, which has already received millions for these scandals.

The biggest censure yesterday was the Liz Kershaw Show on 6 Music, which was fined £115,000 after a staggering 17 episodes of deception in 17 months.

Ofcom pointed out that this and some of the other shows, such as Sport Relief, fined £45,000, had taken a premeditated decision to dupe the public.

It said programme-makers knew in advance that the audience had no chance of winning the competitions but went ahead with them anyway.

The regulator said yesterday: "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 added: "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, programmes faced with technical problems made up the names of winners.

Yesterday politicians once again called for a proper police probe into these and all the other TV phone-in and fakery scandals.

Liberal Democrat shadow culture secretary Don Foster said: "The BBC's behaviour was completely disgraceful. It is right that Ofcom has taken the action it has."

He added: "Several high profile broadcasters have been caught up in the phone-in scandal, yet we still haven't had a police investigation to determine if fraud took place. This must happen now."

Conservative MP, Philip Davies, who sits on the culture, media and sport select committee said: "It strikes me that the BBC has got off very lightly. If it had been a commercial broadcaster they would have been penalised more heavily.

"I don't see why the most feather bedded organisation, which has got far money than any of its commercial competitors, should be let off lightly because of that. It seems completely perverse."

The report blamed the BBC's lack of 'adequate management oversight' on making sure viewers were not being conned.

While the BBC did not make money from these competitions, viewers did have to pay out for the cost of the calls.

On Comic Relief, fined £45,000, a member of the production team posed as a winner on a phone-in competition on BBC1 in March last year.

A similar scenario resulting in viewers being misled on a Sport Relief phone-in in July 2006.

On Children in Need, in 2005, the name of a fictitious winner was read out on air. It was fined £35,000.

A member of staff posed as a competition winner on an edition of the Russell Brand show on 6 Music, that was billed as live but was pre-recorded.

The Jo Whiley show on Radio 1 faked a competition winner on two occasions.

Other BBC shows involved in the ruling were the Clare McDonnell Show on 6 Music, and TMi on BBC2 and CBBC.

The BBC Trust, the governing body of the corporation, said it regretted that the fine would lead to a loss of licence fee payers' money.

It said the BBC made a public apology last summer and "a firm commitment to put its house in order".

Ofcom's fine also reflected the fact that the corporation had not made money from the phone-ins, unlike ITV.

BBC management issued a separate statement, saying: "We accept Ofcom's findings. We have taken these issues extremely seriously from the outset, apologising to our audiences and putting in place an unprecedented action plan to tackle the issues raised.

"This includes a comprehensive programme of training for over 19,000 staff, rigorous new technical protections, new guidance to programme-makers on the running of competitions and a strict new Code of Conduct."

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