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BBC fined £150k over Manuelgate

Ofcom slaps Auntie hard

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The BBC has been fined £150,000 over the Manuelgate scandal, Ofcom has confirmed.

On 18 October last year, Radio 2 broadcast a show featuring Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross in which they rang actor Andrew Sachs and left messages on his ansafone which boasted that Brand had slept with the Fawlty Towers vet's granddaughter, Georgina Baillie.

In the ensuing rumpus, Brand resigned while Ross was was suspended without pay for 12 weeks. The BBC engaged in some heavy firefighting which included the corporation's trust slamming the incident as a "deplorable intrusion with no editorial justification" and promising to control Ross's penchant for explicit language.

Ofcom has now ruled the Manuelgate affair "gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning" and says the scale of the fine "reflects the extraordinary nature and seriousness of the BBC’s failures and the resulting breaches of the Code".

The breaches in question are of Rule 2.1 (generally accepted standards must be applied programmes) and Rule 2.3 (offensive material must be justified by the context), which attracted a combined slap of £70,000. The BBC was fined a further £80,000 for contraventions of Rule 8.1 (the "standard" requiring adequate protection for members of the public from unwarranted infringements of privacy).

Describing the "underlying flaws" in the BBC's chain of command, which allowed the offending material to slip through the net, Ofcom's Stewart Purvis explained: "When the BBC decided to outsource this programme to an independent production company, it didn't put in place what we call compliance systems. In other words, ways of staying within the rules.

"The executive producer of the programme was a senior figure in the agency which represented Russell Brand and a line producer was loaned by the BBC to the production company, of which Russell Brand is one of the owners."

Accordingly, the BBC had no one "absolutely in editorial control of the whole process".

A BBC spokesman offered: "As we said last October, this material should never have been broadcast and we apologised unreservedly for that. The BBC has since taken comprehensive action to deal with what were unacceptable failures in editorial judgement and compliance which led to the broadcast."

As well as imposing the fines, Ofcom has also "directed BBC Radio 2 to broadcast a summary of its findings".

The full adjudication can be found here (pdf). ®

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