Television

BBC takes tough measures to address editorial breaches

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MUMBAI: UK pubcaster BBC is to take a package of tough measures to address the discovery of further serious breaches of editorial standards across some areas of programmes and content.

The breaches, which were revealed following a BBC-wide search of around one million hours of output since January 2005, were reported by BBC director general Mark Thompson to the BBC Trust. He announced the new measures in response to demands for action from the Trust.

The measures include a total suspension of all competitions. Phone-related competitions on BBC television and radio ceased at midnight, and interactive and online competitions will be stopped as soon as possible.

An unprecedented programme of editorial training focussing on the issue of honesty with audiences will also be implemented. All 16,500 programmes and content staff will attend a new mandatory training programme, safeguarding trust, from Autumn. It will emphasise the absolute imperative to understand and comply with all of the BBC's values and editorial standards.

Thompson said, "Nothing matters more than trust and fair dealing with our audiences. The vast majority of the 400,000 hours of BBC output each year, on television, radio and online, is accurate, fair and complies with our stringent editorial standards.”

"However, a number of programmes have failed to meet these high standards. This is totally unacceptable. It is right that we are open with the public when we have fallen short and that we demonstrate that we take this very seriously indeed. The behaviour of a small number of production staff who pass themselves off as viewers and listeners must stop. We must now swiftly put our house in order.”

He added, "Our values and our editorial guidelines must take precedence over everything else. There is no excuse for deception. I know the idea of deceiving the public would simply never occur to most people in the BBC. We have to regard deception as a very grave breach of discipline which will normally lead to dismissal. If you have a choice between deception and a programme going off air, let the programme go. It is far better to accept a production problem and make a clean breast to the public than to deceive."

The DG also outlined to the BBC Trust further measures in addition to the suspension of phone-related competitions and the unprecedented editorial training programme, in response to public concern over breaches of editorial standards.

In some cases, editorial leaders will be asked to stand back from their duties, pending reviews of why it took so long for a number of historical incidents to come to light.

The BBC will revise the standard contracts both for BBC staff and BBC suppliers and make changes to ensure that responsibility for upholding the BBC's editorial standards and consequences of breaching those standards are understood by everyone.

Steps will be taken to ensure that promotional materials, such as launch tapes, trails and publicity materials meet the same standards that the BBC expects from its broadcast output.

A separate communication programme is to be started for independent producers who work with the BBC. The programme of action announced on 29 May 2007 following concerns over the use of premium rate telephony at the BBC will continue.

“We intend to invite ITV, Channel 4, five and all other leading UK broadcasters to join us in a workshop focusing on training and editorial standards across the industry. Our first priority will remain putting our own house in order,” Thompson said.

Thompson updated the BBC Trust on six further instances in which production staff have passed themselves off as genuine viewers or listeners, or invented a fictitious winner, which had been uncovered since his original report to the Trust in May.

Comic Relief, transmitted on Friday 16 March 2007 on BBC One: In a section of the appeal programme, viewers were invited to donate money to Comic Relief and were informed that by calling in they could win prizes which belonged to a famous couple. The first two callers taken on air gave incorrect answers. The other waiting callers were lost and a third caller was heard on air successfully answering the question. This caller was in fact not a viewer but a member of the production team.

TMi, transmitted on 16 September 2006 on BBC Two and CBBC: Following a production problem with a live competition, viewers were led to believe that a member of the audience was involved and won a competition open to the public. In fact, the caller was a member of the production team. The programme team failed to seek proper advice before running the competition.

Sport Relief, transmitted on 15 July 2006 on BBC One: Viewers were led to believe that a member of the public was involved in and won a competition open to the public, whereas the caller was in fact a member of the production team. The BBC has found evidence that this action was planned as a contingency in advance and that the physical infrastructure of the competition meant that it would have been impossible for it to be run as was described on air, and warnings about potential difficulties in conducting the competition were ignored. This incident was not referred up nor was it declared to a BBC audit in March.

Children in Need, transmitted on 18 November 2005 on BBC One Scotland: In a segment called Raven:The Island in the BBC's Children in Need appeal's Scotland broadcast in 2005, viewers were led to believe that a phone-in competition, open to the audience, had been won by a viewer, when in fact, due to a communications breakdown, the names of callers were not forwarded to the production team and the name of a fictitious winner was read out on air.

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