BBC suspends editors over fake phone-ins

The BBC suspended some senior editors on Thursday after the public broadcaster unearthed a string of fake phone-in competitions that tarnished its reputation and torpedoed the trust of viewers.

“We can confirm that some senior editorial leaders have been asked to step back from their duties. We cannot give any numbers or details,” a BBC spokesperson said.

The BBC, one of the world’s most respected broadcasters, said it was suspending phone-related competitions from Thursday after admitting it had put fake winners on air in popular charity fund-raising shows.

BBC director general Mark Thompson told staff in an email on Thursday: “We believe that trust is the cornerstone of the BBC’s brand and heritage across the world.”

“We cannot and will not allow anything to risk our reputation for integrity with our audiences.”

It is the biggest crisis faced by the BBC since it locked horns with the British government over its coverage of Iraq.

Judge Lord Hutton exonerated former premier Tony Blair but lambasted the corporation in a 2003 probe into the death of a British scientist who committed suicide after being outed as the source of a BBC radio report that officials had hyped Iraq’s weapons threat.

The BBC suffered last week had to apologise to Queen Elizabeth II for implying in a documentary trailer that she had stormed out of a photo-shoot with photographer Annie Leibovitz.

That followed a fine of £50 000 imposed on the BBC after the results of a competition in a children’s programme were found to have been faked.

The problem of competition-rigging has proved to be pervasive in British broadcasting, prompting a sharp rebuke from the media watchdog Ofcom.

It said on Wednesday that an inquiry into television programmes and quizzes that use premium rate telephone numbers had found that they frequently misled viewers, in ways such as naming fictional winners.

“This inquiry shows the extent to which there has been a systemic failure of compliance,” Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said.

“Phoning a TV show isn’t like ordering pizza. When you put the phone down, nothing arrives.
You just have to trust that your call was counted,” said Richard Ayre, leader of the Ofcom inquiry. - Reuters

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