On July 30, 2008, the British Office of Communications (Ofcom) announced that a record 400,000 British pounds in fines had been levied against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in connection with phone-in competition violations that occurred on various programs on the network from 2005 to 2007.
The amount is a record for the BBC, which also paid a fine of 50,000 pounds in 2007 for faking a competition winner on the children’s program “Blue Peter.” According to BBC News, Ofcom has not yet ruled on a second violation, where the results of a contest to name a cat were ignored and a different name was chosen for the cat by editorial staff.
On some BBC programs, viewers using “premium rate” phone lines operated by third-party providers such as PhonePayPlus, were allowed to call in to competitions on BBC programs despite the fact that competitions were already closed or they had no chance of winning. (See “U.K. Television Network Fined Big for Fake Phone-in Contests” in the Winter 2008 issue of the Silha Bulletin.) On other programs, competition results were ignored or prizes were awarded to staff members. The shows “Comic Relief,” “Sports Relief,” “Children in Need,” “TMi,” “The Liz Kershaw Show,” “The Jo Whiley Show,” “Russell Brand,” and “The Clare McDonnell Show” were all implicated in the phone-in scams and were fined varying amounts that totaled 400,000 pounds.
The fines are part of a series of penalties levied by Ofcom against the BBC and other British television networks including ITV, Channel 4, GMTV, and Five, for similar phone-in contest related infractions from 2005 to 2007.
According to the (London) Daily Mail, the BBC’s status as a public entity, as well as the fact that no money was made by the BBC through the scams, protected the corporation from even higher fines, such as those levied against ITV, which faces up to 4 million pounds in fines for a series of breaches of Ofcom’s codes of conduct from 2006 to 2007. A complete list of ITV’s violations is available online at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/media/news/2008/05/nr_20080508.
In a press release issued on July 30, 2008, the BBC said it accepted Ofcom’s findings, noting that “Ofcom has recognised that neither the BBC nor any member of staff made any money from these serious editorial lapses.”
In its own statement on July 30, the BBC Trust stated “The Trust regrets that these serious breaches by the BBC have led to a financial penalty being applied by Ofcom and the loss of licence fee payers’ money as a result,” and that “the penalty in these cases reflects that the breaches were serious, deliberate and in some cases repeated.”
Since news of the scams first broke, the BBC has been working to rebuild its reputation as a network. The BBC wrote in its press release on July 30, “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.”
– Sara Cannon
Silha Center Staff