Ofcom fines BBC £50,000 for Blue Peter breach

LONDON - Ofcom has fined the BBC £50,000 for using a studio guest to pose as the winner of a live telephone competition, marking the first time the regulator has fined the corporation.

Ofcom launched an investigation in March after the BBC admitted it had planted a studio guest in a live telephone competition on 'Blue Peter' on November 27.

The show was singled out for intense criticism after 14,000 children called in to the competition, which was "won" by a member of the studio audience. At the time, the BBC said the incident was because of a phoneline fault.

The regulator has fined the BBC a total of £50,000 for breaches of its Broadcasting Code, with £5,000 of the fine being imposed for the show being repeated in full on CBBC.

In May, the BBC Trust said that 'Blue Peter' and 'Saturday Kitchen' programmes made "serious errors in judgement" regarding the use of premium rate telephone competitions and said it will implement sample checks by an external auditor.

The trust has also announced it will begin a longer-term policy review into how and when the BBC should use premium-rate phone lines and associated programme interactivity, following a report commissioned by director-general Mark Thompson.

In response to the decision today by Ofcom, the BBC Trust said the errors around the 'Blue Peter' programme on November 27 "were particularly serious" and that it expected BBC management to learn for its mistakes.

"Ofcom has been given powers by Parliament to fine the BBC if Ofcom finds that a breach of its Standards Code has been serious. Ofcom has exercised that power in this instance.

"The trust expects BBC management to continue to demonstrate a commitment to learning from these breaches: we were pleased by the management's swift response when the errors came to light and its frank and clear assessment of what went wrong. The culture of the BBC must be such that any proposal to mislead audiences is instantly dismissed as wholly inappropriate", the trust said.

It added that a longer-term policy review into how and when the BBC uses premium rate services within programmes is due to report by the end of the year.

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