Blue Peter becomes embroiled in premium phone scandal

LONDON - The BBC's children's favourite 'Blue Peter' has become the latest programme to be embroiled in the premium rate phone scandal after it was hit by the discovery of an irregularly run phone-in competition. The BBC is promising to apologise on the programme today.

The BBC's investigation into its handling of premium rate phone-ins was discovered following an email tip-off that on November 27 last year a charity competition to win children's toys discriminated against people who phoned to enter. The BBC did not profit from the calls made.

This was due to a technical fault that meant the producers could not see the list of people who had called in with the correct answer. Instead, they asked a child who was visiting the studio to call in, the child was subsequently awarded the prize. The BBC did not name the phone company involved.

The corporation is now promising to make an apology on 'Blue Peter' today and to choose a winner from those who entered in November, as well as offering callers their money back. Calls cost 10p which included a donation of 3.25p to Unicef, the charity the competition was in aid of.

The BBC and other major broadcasters are continuing their review of their past and present participation TV procedures.

Richard Deverell, controller of BBC Children's programmes described the decision to put a child on air in this way as "a serious error of judgement."

"BBC Children's has a deep and genuine commitment to our audiences, and our relationship with them is built on trust. While I am satisfied that there was no premeditated attempt to deceive or mislead viewers, the decision to put a child on air in this way was a serious error of judgement, and does not conform to either the BBC's own guidelines or the high standards we set ourselves in children's programmes.

"I would like to apologise unequivocally to viewers, to all the children who took part in the competition, and we have already apologised directly to the child involved and her family for this incident. Part of our commitment to a relationship built on trust requires us to disclose this error and try to put it right, which we are now doing. It is very important that Blue Peter takes action to do this, and to ensure that lessons are learned."

Richard Marson, editor of 'Blue Peter', said: "This edition of the programme fell short of the high standards 'Blue Peter' viewers quite rightly expect. We are absolutely committed to running competitions that are fair to all entrants and we are very sorry for the way this competition was conducted."

The Conservative Party said the addition of 'Blue Peter' to the roll call of progammes involved in the scandal only added to the case for a new code of conduct.

Hugo Swire, shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, said: "The latest admission of another programme misleading the public over a phone-in competition only underlines the urgent need for a new code of conduct for the operation of such competitions. These ongoing revelations are seriously undermining the public’s confidence in broadcasters, and damaging the reputation of British television."

He added: "We would not want to undermine the current investigations, but the current system of regulation is clearly not up to the job. We need to put in place a strict and rigorous code of conduct for all operators, to ensure that the public are not duped or mislead in any way.  Unless the Broadcasting industry quickly puts its house in order, the future of such programmes must be in doubt."

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