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Mark Thompson

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"We must put our house in order" demands Director-General in tough response to further disclosures


BBC Director-General Mark Thompson today announced a package of tough measures to address the discovery of further serious breaches of editorial standards across some areas of BBC programmes and content.

 

The further emerging breaches, revealed following a BBC-wide search of around one million hours of output since January 2005, were reported today by Mr Thompson to the BBC Trust, and the Director-General announced the new measures in response to demands for action from the Trust.

 

The measures include a total suspension of all competitions. Phone-related competitions on BBC television and radio will cease at midnight tonight, and interactive and online competitions will be taken down as soon as possible.

 

An unprecedented programme of editorial training focussing on the issue of honesty with audiences will also be implemented.

 

All 16,500 programmes and content staff will attend a new mandatory training programme, Safeguarding Trust, from the Autumn. It will emphasise the absolute imperative to understand and comply with all of the BBC's values and editorial standards.

 

Mark Thompson said: "Nothing matters more than trust and fair dealing with our audiences. The vast majority of the 400,000 hours of BBC output each year, on television, radio and online, is accurate, fair and complies with our stringent editorial standards.

 

"However, a number of programmes have failed to meet these high standards. This is totally unacceptable. It is right that we are open with the public when we have fallen short and that we demonstrate that we take this very seriously indeed. The behaviour of a small number of production staff who have passed themselves off as viewers and listeners must stop. We must now swiftly put our house in order."

 

Addressing the entire BBC staff this afternoon in an internal BBC broadcast, he added: "Our values and our editorial guidelines must take precedence over everything else. There is no excuse for deception. I know the idea of deceiving the public would simply never occur to most people in the BBC. We have to regard deception as a very grave breach of discipline which will normally lead to dismissal. 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."

 

The Director-General also outlined to the BBC Trust this morning further measures in addition to the suspension of phone-related competitions and the unprecedented editorial training programme, in response to public concern over breaches of editorial standards.

 

The BBC will commission a full and independent inquiry into the incident involving BBC One and the Queen. The report will be submitted by the Director-General to the BBC Trust in the Autumn. The findings of this inquiry will be made public.

 

We will work with RDF to understand the steps they propose to ensure there is no chance of a repetition of the incident involving the Queen. Until that is clear and we have the findings of the independent inquiry, we will pause in commissioning any new programmes from them.

 

In some cases, editorial leaders will be asked to stand back from their duties, pending reviews of why it took so long for a number of historical incidents to come to light.

 

The BBC will revise the standard contracts both for BBC staff and BBC suppliers and make changes to ensure that responsibility for upholding the BBC's editorial standards and consequences of breaching those standards are understood by everyone.

 

The BBC will take steps to ensure that promotional materials, such as launch tapes, trails and publicity materials meet the same standards that the BBC expects from its broadcast output.

 

All programme teams will be directly communicated with in a series of meetings following today's announcements. A separate communication programme for independent producers who work with the BBC will also begin.

 

The programme of action announced on 29 May 2007 following concerns over the use of premium rate telephony at the BBC will continue.

 

We intend to invite ITV, Channel 4, five and all other leading UK broadcasters to join us in a workshop focussing on training and editorial standards across the industry. Our first priority will remain putting our own house in order.

 

The Director-General will keep the BBC Trust fully updated as to progress.

 

The Director-General updated the BBC Trust on six further instances in which production staff have passed themselves off as genuine viewers or listeners, or invented a fictitious winner, which had been uncovered since his original report to the Trust in May.

 

These were:

 

Comic Relief, transmitted on Friday 16 March 2007 on BBC One

 

In a section of the appeal programme, viewers were invited to donate money to Comic Relief and were informed that by calling in they could win prizes which belonged to a famous couple. The first two callers taken on air gave incorrect answers. The other waiting callers were lost and a third caller was heard on air successfully answering the question. This caller was in fact not a viewer but a member of the production team.

 

TMi, transmitted on 16 September 2006 on BBC Two and CBBC

 

Following a production problem with a live competition, viewers were led to believe that a member of the audience was involved and won a competition open to the public. In fact, the caller was a member of the production team. The programme team failed to seek proper advice before running the competition.

 

Sport Relief, transmitted on 15 July 2006 on BBC One

 

Viewers were led to believe that a member of the public was involved in and won a competition open to the public, whereas the caller was in fact a member of the production team. The BBC has found evidence that this action was planned as a contingency in advance and that the physical infrastructure of the competition meant that it would have been impossible for it to be run as was described on air, and warnings about potential difficulties in conducting the competition were ignored. This incident was not referred up nor was it declared to a BBC audit in March.

 

Children in Need, transmitted on 18 November 2005 on BBC One Scotland

 

In a segment called Raven:The Island in the BBC's Children in Need appeal's Scotland broadcast in 2005, viewers were led to believe that a phone-in competition, open to the audience, had been won by a viewer, when in fact, due to a communications breakdown, the names of callers were not forwarded to the production team and the name of a fictitious winner was read out on air.

 

The Liz Kershaw Show, transmitted in 2005/6 on BBC 6 Music

 

In pre-recorded programmes, presented as if they were live, a competition was announced which appeared to feature genuine listeners phoning in to take part, one of whom would win a prize on air. In fact, in recorded programmes, there were no competitions or prizes and all of the callers were actually members of production team and their friends. A new producer took over the programme in December 2006 and stopped the practices as a matter of priority.

 

White Label, transmitted on BBC World Service until April 2006

 

A weekly pop music preview programme on the English Service. On more than one occasion a fake winner was announced for the CD prize when no winning entries had actually been received.

 

The Director-General reported to the BBC Trust that all but one of the above incidents had occurred prior to the announcement of the highly publicised breach on the Blue Peter programme (the Comic Relief incident happened two days after the announcement).

 

The search across our output would continue, and the Director-General indicated to the BBC Trust that it was possible further historical incidents could emerge.

 

However, it was already clear that as part of the BBC's search of the thousands of competitions run on BBC output every year, a number in addition to those discussed in detail had been poorly organised and breached guidelines. This predominantly affected competitions on BBC network music radio, including Radio 1, Radio 2, 6 Music, and BBC Local Radio.

 

The Director-General also reported to the BBC Trust on the recent high-profile incident involving a television series about the Queen at the BBC One Autumn launch.

 

RDF, the independent production company making the documentary which was featured at the launch, have written to the BBC accepting that they made a serious error of judgement in sending the BBC a misleading edit of a particular sequence in the film. They have offered us and the Queen an unreserved apology.

 

Nonetheless, the Director-General told the BBC Trust that there were serious questions for the BBC to answer about its role in this deeply regrettable incident and to learn lessons from it. The Director-General will commission an independent inquiry.

 

Mark Thompson said: "We know that fundamental public trust in the BBC is very high. But recent events show that we cannot take that trust for granted. The BBC Trust has charged me and my senior colleagues with working with BBC staff to put this right and reduce the risk of a recurrence. This will take humility and perseverance, but it can and will be done."

 

Notes to Editors

 

1. An executive overview of the Director-General's report to the BBC Trust this morning is published as a PDF document available on the right-hand side of this page.

 

2. Please note a separate statement on this matter has been issued today by the BBC Trust.

 

3. The Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust will be subjecting the programme breaches to detailed scrutiny and the BBC Trust has requested further detailed reports on all matters to that committee, starting in September. The actions outlined above will be reviewed by the BBC Trust in the light of these reports which will then take a final view and may call for further action.

 

4. In exceptional circumstances, some competitions which are already under way may be allowed to conclude under close supervision.

 

5. The mandatory programme will be supplemented by additional intensive training relevant to each area of output. The BBC's Directors will be responsible for reporting to the BBC's Executive Board on compliance with this training.

 

6. All BBC programmes and output, whether made by an in-house production department, or an independent producer, must already comply in full with the BBC's stringent editorial guidelines. The measures outlined above will also apply to independent producers in respect of their work for the BBC. The training will be extended to all of their staff involved in BBC output.

 

BBC Press Office

 

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EXECUTIVE OVERVIEW AND
ADDRESS TO BBC STAFF:

The Executive Overview of Editorial Breaches of Audience Trust - a report from the Executive Board to the BBC Trust - and the text of the BBC Director-General's address to staff are available in PDF format. You may need Adobe Acrobat software to read PDF files which can be obtained free from the
Adobe Reader website

Tip to users: when in PDF files, use the "Zoom in" tool to magnify text
Category: BBC
Date: 18.07.2007
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