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The Beeb cuts off premium rate phone-in lines

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The BBC has suspended all phone-in competitions across its television, radio, internet and interactive services following a damning internal inquiry into editorial failures.

The Beeb also admitted to six new cases where its production staff had passed themselves off as viewers or listeners.

It said that faked phone-ins took place on three of its charity appeal programmes (Sports Relief, Comic Relief and Children In Need).

A kid's programme on CBBC and two radio shows on 6 Music and the World Service were also said to have duped the licence-paying public.

In what has been a difficult week for the public service broadcaster, director general Mark Thompson said he was taking a "zero tolerance" approach at the BBC to prevent further embarrassing editorial slip-ups.

Media regulator, Ofcom had already weighed-in on the controversial phone-in debate yesterday.

Following its own investigation into premium-rate telecommunications services (PRS) used in television programmes, the watchdog concluded that broadcasters needed to be made accountable.

Results of the Ofcom inquiry, which kicked off in March and was headed up by ex-BBC news chief exec Richard Ayre, found:

  • Compliance failures were systemic;
  • Revenue generation was a major driver in the growth of PRS;
  • Some broadcasters appeared to be in denial about their responsibilities to ensure programmes delivered on the transactions they offered to viewers;
  • There was an apparent lack of transparency through the supply chain - between telecoms operators, producers and broadcasters - resulting in a lack of clarity about responsibilities;
  • Broadcasters are concerned that there is a lack of clarity between the regulators, Ofcom and ICSTIS.

Ayre 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.

"If broadcasters want audiences to go on spending millions calling in, they need to show they take consumer protection as seriously as programme content."

Ofcom recommended that television broadcaster licences should be amended to include third-party auditing. It also called for a more wide-ranging broadcasting code which included competition fairness and transparency in pricing.

Earlier this year Ofcom had fined the broadcaster £50,000 after Blue Peter convinced a child to pose as a competition winner.

In a statement the BBC Trust said it was "deeply concerned that significant failures of control and compliance within the BBC have compromised the BBC's values of accuracy and honesty".

Thompson said that staff will be fully briefed on upholding editorial standards, and the BBC Trust added that some senior editorial staff could be asked to step down.

According to the BBC website, Thompson said: "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."

More from Ofcom here here and the Beeb here

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