The BBC London 94.9 radio station has been fined £25,000 by regulator Ofcom after it “knowingly misled” listeners in operating competitions during pre-recorded programmes “in the full knowledge that the audience stood no chance of either entering or winning.”
The competitions were included in five pre-recorded editions of Tony Blackburn’s weekly show during December 2005 and December 2006 which were subsequently broadcast ‘as live’. Listeners were invited to enter via telephone but on each occasion the production team selected listeners who had previously contacted the programme to pose as competition entrants.
The regulator said it was “very concerned by the repeated, pre-meditated and deliberate decisions” which it “had not been taken in the context of any technical failure or other unforeseen circumstances, but were made for purely logistical reasons relating to the presenter’s availability, and therefore should have been entirely within the control of the broadcaster.”
In a damning verdict Ofcom said the production team “knowingly misled” the audience when it should have been “obvious” the competitions were be a serious breach of the broadcasting code.
In its findings Ofcom notes “that the production team deliberately selected previous listeners as contestants in the pre-recorded competitions. The Committee considered it particularly serious that, having taken such pre-meditated steps, the production team therefore knew that listeners to the broadcasts would have no chance of entering or winning the competitions at the time of transmission, yet listeners were still invited to enter.“
Although the BBC did not profit from the competitions Ofcom says “the erosion of audience trust
resulting from such deliberate deception should be considered, in itself, as a form of serious harm to listeners.”
The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) investigated the issue in September and published its findings today.
The ESC said the cases were “serious and did involve audience deception” however it was “satisfied that the cases did not raise new issues which had not been previously addressed and was satisfied that the remedial steps taken by the BBC over 2007 and 2008 have put in place protections which should prevent cases of this nature in the future.”
BBC management say they “accept the BBC Trust’s and Ofcom’s findings. These historical breaches were tackled by a comprehensive action plan launched by the BBC in July 2007. This included a major programme of training for over 19,000 staff, a new specialist unit to provide advice on all technical aspects of running competitions and a strict new Code of Conduct.”
“We welcome Ofcom’s recognition of the extensive action taken to address these issues and that neither the BBC nor any member of staff made any money from these lapses.”
The Trust has instructed BBC management to broadcast an on-air apology which will air on Saturday 20 December at approx 2.00pm on BBC London 94.9FM.