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Deceit plunges BBC into darkest days

Sydney Morning Herald | July 20, 2007
Owen Gibson

THE BBC has been thrown into crisis after uncovering a "hornet's nest of deception" involving some of its biggest charity appeals, including Comic Relief, Sport Relief and Children in Need.

After discovering at least six more incidents of viewers being seriously misled, the broadcaster immediately suspended all its competitions across its television, radio and web operations. Some "editorial leaders" at the heart of the problems have been suspended.

On what was dubbed a "black Wednesday" for public service broadcasting in Britain, the media regulator Ofcom also released a damning report on premium phone lines that uncovered a "systemic failure" in their operation. In an effort to head off a new wave of criticism, the BBC introduced a mandatory training program, "Safeguarding Trust", for its 16,500 staff.

Coming shortly after faked publicity footage for a BBC documentary that appeared to show the Queen storming out of a photoshoot and the first ever fine of £50,000 ($116,860) for faking a phone-in on the children's program Blue Peter, the BBC's director-general, Mark Thompson, said the new revelations were "a very grave breach of discipline".

At the same time, the BBC initiated an independent inquiry into the circumstances that led to the clip of the Queen appearing at a press launch and, subsequently, on the front of newspapers worldwide.

Mr Thompson outlined six new incidents in which BBC staff had passed themselves off as members of the public or a fictitious winner had been announced.

The deception was compounded because Sport Relief, like Comic Relief and Children in Need, was contained in a list of 200 programs given a clean bill of health in May. The BBC Trust, which oversees the broadcaster, said it was "deeply concerned" that failures of control and compliance had compromised the BBC's values of "accuracy and honesty".

The Ofcom report on premium-rate phone lines criticised a "gold rush" mentality among broadcasters tapping into a new revenue stream.


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