Record fine over BBC's phone-ins
Thursday, 31 July 2008


The BBC has been fined £400,000 by media watchdog Ofcom for misleading its audiences by "faking" phone-ins.

The Comic Relief, Children in Need and Sport Relief TV shows were caught up in the scandal, along with Liz Kershaw on 6 Music and Jo Whiley's Radio 1 show.

The regulator's £400,000 penalty is a record for the corporation.

"The BBC deceived its audience by faking winners of competitions and deliberately conducting competitions unfairly," Ofcom said.

Viewers were urged to call some BBC programmes after contestants had already been chosen.

Other shows had been pre-recorded, so nobody could win apparently "live" competitions.

The affected shows were fined individually, totalling £400,000. They were:

• Comic Relief (BBC One, March 2007) - £45,000

• Sport Relief (BBC One, July 2006) - £45,000

• Children in Need (BBC One Scotland, November 2005) - £35,000

• TMi (BBC Two and CBBC, September 2006) - £50,000

• Liz Kershaw Show (BBC 6 Music, May 2005 to January 2006) - £115,000

• Jo Whiley Show (BBC Radio 1, 20 April to 12 May 2006) - £75,000

• Russell Brand (BBC 6 Music, April 2006) - £17,500

• Clare McDonnell Show (BBC 6 Music, from September 2006) - £17,500

Read about the affected TV and radio shows
Ofcom said some programme-makers knew audiences had no chance of winning competitions, but broadcast them anyway.

"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," the watchdog said.

"In other cases, programmes 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."

In a statement the BBC said it accepted the findings.
"Ofcom has recognised 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."

The BBC said the issues had been taken "extremely seriously" all along, with apologies made and "an unprecedented action plan" to deal with the matters raised.

These plans included training for more than 19,000 staff, new guidance to programme makers on the running of competitions and a stricter code of conduct, it added.


In July 2007, Ofcom fined the BBC £50,000 after children's programme Blue Peter falsified the results of a contest during a live show.

The BBC later suspended all competitions after an inquiry unearthed a fresh batch of faked phone-ins the same month.

BBC One's Sport Relief show in July 2006, Comic Relief in March 2007, Children in Need on BBC Scotland in November 2005, the Liz Kershaw Show on BBC 6 Music and CBBC programme TMi were all found to have breached editorial standards. These editorial failures were serious BBC Trust

As a result, the corporation unveiled a code of conduct for its competitions on TV, radio and online services in November.

Then in January this year, shows hosted by Russell Brand and Jo Whiley were at the centre of two new cases of misleading the public in radio competitions.

Callers were invited to participate in "live" competitions on pre-recorded episodes of the 6 Music and Radio 1 shows which were broadcast in 2006.

The BBC's own watchdog, the BBC Trust, said it regretted the loss of licence-fee payers' money as a result of the fine, which followed rule-breaches which 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 penalty comes after ITV was fined a record £5.68m by Ofcom for abusing premium rate phone services in viewer competitions in May.

TV shows Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, Gameshow Marathon and Soapstar Superstar were all found to have "serious editorial issues".

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