BBC Fined Over 'Blue Peter' Phone in Scam

LONDON (Reuters) - British media watchdog Ofcom has imposed an unprecedented 50,000 pound fine on the BBC over a phone-in scam on "Blue Peter," one of the public-service broadcasters most popular children's shows.

The BBC was guilty of serious breaches of the broadcasting code, Ofcom ruled, by allowing a young studio guest to pose as a fake competition winner on the television programme.

It was the first time Ofcom imposed a financial penalty against the BBC.

In its ruling, Ofcom's sanctions committee concluded that the BBC was guilty of deception and making a child complicit in that deception.

The broadcaster was found to have breached two rules: the first stating that competitions should be conducted fairly and the second stating that due care must be taken over the welfare and the dignity of people under 18 in such programmes.

"The decision to involve a child in the deception for the sake of expediency demonstrated a casual lack of regard for the welfare of that child," Ofcom said.

Almost 40,000 children called the "Blue Peter" premium rate phone line on November 27 last year in a competition to win a toy.

Viewers were asked to identify a character from soap opera "EastEnders" from a picture of his feet and an accompanying clue.

But when a technical glitch meant no winning entrant could be selected, a member of the production team asked a girl visiting the studio with her parent to pose as a winning caller.

She was given the correct answer and put on air.

Another member of the public visiting the studio on the same day observed what had taken place and blew the whistle in March this year.

The regulator recently imposed its biggest ever penalty, a 300,000 pound fine, against Channel 5 television for faking winners in live call-in competitions "Brainteaser" and "Memory Bank."

Premium rate regulator ICSTIS last week imposed a record fine of 150,000 pounds on Channel 4 television's "Richard and Judy" show over a fake phone-in.

The BBC was not immediately available for comment.

Copyright Reuters 2006.

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