The BBC has cancelled all phone-related, interactive and online competitions and suspended senior editorial staff following further revelations of faking winners on air. It has even emerged that a production team member posed as a competition winner on a charity fundraising programme in March, just two days after an enquiry was announced into a similar incident on a children’s programme.
It now transpires that a member of the Comic Relief production team posed as a winner after two callers put on air gave incorrect answers to a competition question during the annual charity fundraising programme.
The incident on 16 March 2007 was one of a number that emerged. Other instances include a member of the production team posing as a winner on a Sport Relief competition in July 2006, and the announcement of a fictitious winner to a Children in Need competition the previous November.
The BBC first announced an independent review of programmes which used premium rate phone lines following allegations that a child visiting the Blue Peter studio was asked to call in win a competition after there were problems with phone lines.
Jana Bennett, the director of the BBC Vision, announced an immediate independent review of the incident and the lessons to be learned on 14 March 2007, just two days before the annual Comic Relief programme.
The BBC was recently fined £50,000 by the communications regulator Ofcom for the Blue Peter incident and the post of programme editor was advertised. In the latest round of introspection, the BBC has suspended a number of senior staff from their duties pending a review.
“There is no excuse for deception,” said the director general of the BBC, addressing all staff. “If you have a choice between deception and a programme going off air, let the programme go.”
The BBC will be sending thousands of staff on a training course on Safeguarding Trust. The real problem seems to be not just that producers are cynically indifferent to their audience but that they have little regard for their own management. It points to an organisation that is out of control and an arrogant belief that the artifice of television is more important that the confidence of the audience.
As anyone that has ever been part of a studio audience may recognise, there is an impression of the overriding importance of the programme. The audience is simply fodder for the format, there to jeer, cheer and applaud on cue. Those calling in are simply seen as an extension of the show, rather than paying consumers.
“We are not ready to draw a line under the editorial failures reported to us today,” announced the BBC Trust. “Once the director general’s action plan has been fully implemented we will carry out an independent review to satisfy ourselves of a distinct improvement in the BBC’s attitude to safeguarding the public’s trust.”
A parliamentary committee has called senior executives from the BBC and ITV to answer questions over “widespread and systemic problems” in the use of premium-rate telephone services.