LONDON (Reuters) – Media watchdog Ofcom fined the BBC 400,000 pounds on Wednesday, the largest financial penalty it has ever issued against the public broadcaster, for misleading the public through fake quizzes and competitions.
Ofcom said eight BBC shows, four on TV and four on the radio, were guilty of “very serious” failings.
“The investigations found that in some cases the production team had taken pre-mediated decisions to broadcast competitions and encourage listeners to enter in the full knowledge that the audience stood no chance of winning,” Ofcom said.
“In other cases, programmes faced with technical problems made up the names of winners.”
The most serious case, which attracted a fine of 115,000 pounds, related to editions of the Liz Kershaw Show on BBC radio 6 Music from May 2005 to January 2006.
Although some editions of the programme were pre-recorded, they were broadcast as live and included quizzes where listeners were encouraged to participate.
Fictitious names were then presented as the “winners” of these competitions, with about 10 members of the BBC’s production staff posing as callers.
“This is by far the most serious case in relation to the BBC that Ofcom has considered to date,” the watchdog said.
The TV programmes were: Comic Relief, Sport Relief, Children in Need and CBBC programme TMi.
The Jo Whiley Show on Radio 1, and programmes presented by Russell Brand and Clare McDonnell on BBC 6 Music were also affected.
Last year the BBC suspended all its phone-related competitions after an investigation found producers on the children’s programme “Blue Peter” had faked a quiz.
Ofcom fined the corporation 50,000 pounds for that offence.
The BBC’s management said 19,000 staff had undergone “a comprehensive programme” of training and audience research and suggested it was regaining the trust of the public.
“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,” the BBC said in a statement.
In May, the watchdog fined Britain’s biggest commercial broadcaster ITV a record 5.68 million pounds for cheating viewers over phone-in competitions on some of its most popular shows.
The fine was much larger as viewers had been encouraged to call in on premium rate phonelines whereas the BBC had not profited from entries made to its faked competitions.
“Ofcom has recognised that neither the BBC nor any member of staff made any money from these serious editorial lapses,” the corporation said.