U.K. regulator fines BBC $792,000

Corporation penalized for phone-in deception

The BBC has been fined a record £400,000 ($792,000) for deceiving audiences in phone-in competitions.

The programs in which auds were misled include high-profile charity “telethons” “Comic Relief,” “Sport Relief” and “Children in Need,” for which contests were staged.

U.K. media regulator Ofcom found the BBC guilty of breaking its broadcasting code in eight programs across TV and radio and termed these transgressions “very serious.” In each case the pubcaster had “deceived its audience by faking winners of competitions and deliberately conducting competitions unfairly.”

In some instances, said Ofcom, production teams had taken “pre-mediated decisions” to air competitions and encourage auds to enter knowing they stood no chance of winning.

Elsewhere, shows experiencing technical problems made up winners’ names.

The regulator said: “The BBC failed to have adequate management oversight of its compliance and training procedures to ensure that the audience was not misled.”

Although auds paid the cost of their calls, the BBC did not receive any money from the entries.

In a statement, the BBC said it accepted Ofcom’s findings. “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.”

The record penalty follows the first-ever fine imposed by a regulator on the BBC. Last July Ofcom fined the pubcaster $99,000 for similar offenses in “Blue Peter,” the long-running children’s show once renowned for its squeaky-clean innocence.

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