Page last updated at 23:57 GMT, Friday, 21 September 2007 00:57 UK

BBC clean-up 'only just begun'

By Torin Douglas
Media correspondent, BBC News

BBC executives must have breathed a sigh of relief when ITV suddenly announced it was postponing the British Comedy Awards, over what it called "an issue" that had arisen with the show in 2005.

Mark Thompson
The public expect the highest standards, says Mark Thompson.

After two days of headlines about further vote-rigging on Blue Peter and the radio station BBC 6 Music, the spotlight of "programme fakery" had swung away from the BBC to commercial television.

ITV has ordered an investigation into the phone vote for the People's Choice at the Comedy Awards, the only category in which viewers have a say.

It has been alleged that some viewers may have wasted their money by phoning in after the voting had closed.

But the BBC will be back in the harsh glare of the headlines before long, and so will all the main terrestrial broadcasters.

TV and radio's "annus horribilis" still has some months to run.


The sackings, resignations and other disciplinary proceedings have only just begun, and some are being disputed - possibly leading to tribunals and legal action.

Two BBC executives left the corporation this week - the former Blue Peter editor Richard Marson and the head of programmes at BBC 6 Music, Ric Baxill.

A producer at 6 Music has been sacked and is appealing against the decision.

Letting down the children who watch Blue Peter is a truly terrible idea
Mark Thompson
She is backed by her union, BECTU, which claims she has been badly treated and that more senior heads should roll.

Meanwhile, there are more reports of editorial breaches in the pipeline.

Months ago, ITV's executive chairman Michael Grade commissioned an audit by the City firm Deloitte of all its premium-rate phone-related programmes.

'Zero tolerance'

He said there would be "zero tolerance" of deception. That report is expected to be published next month.

So too is the BBC's investigation into how it managed to misrepresent the Queen in a press conference and a trailer for a forthcoming documentary, wrongly claiming she stormed out of a photo-shoot.

The former head of BBC Television, Will Wyatt, has been questioning all those involved.

His report is expected to be presented to the BBC Trust at its next meeting in mid-October.

Socks the cat
Socks the cat joined Blue Peter in January 2006

It is likely to be published with the response of the director general Mark Thompson.

Further headlines seem guaranteed. This week Mr Thompson apologised again to listeners and viewers as he gave an update on the actions he has taken to rebuild the trust of audiences.

In an editor's blog on the BBC website, he denied the BBC had over-reacted to cases such as the naming of the Blue Peter cat.

"Letting down the children who watch Blue Peter and who trust it implicitly is a truly terrible idea - even if all that is at stake is the difference between calling a cat Cookie or Socks," he wrote.

"The simple fact is that the public expect the highest possible standards of us - understandably higher than other media players."

Controversial incidents

He also picked out other incidents that have recently caused controversy.

One was a Newsnight film on Gordon Brown, in which incidents were shown out of sequence.

Another involved a senior BBC executive, Alan Yentob, whose use of so-called "noddies" in the arts series, Imagine, gave the impression he had conducted interviews at which he had not been present.

Both practices were originally defended by BBC executives.

Mr Thompson wrote: "I don't believe that either represented any kind of bad faith or conscious effort to deceive.

"But in my view neither should happen in the future. Many documentaries necessarily show sequences in non-chronological order but if the change is material even in a minor way it should be pointed out to viewers.

"And it's my view that 'noddies' and actuality questions should only be included if they formed part of the original interview."

Tough measures

He admitted the BBC was not yet out of the woods but said it was taking tough measures and he was confident public trust could be rebuilt.

He said no evidence of fraud, or motive of personal gain, had been uncovered.

A new editorial standards board had been set up, and stronger editorial checks were being introduced.

A new training scheme for all programme makers would begin in November and phone competitions would be gradually reintroduced.

He also announced a major new BBC online project - led by senior programme executives - which will enable the public to explore how contemporary media content is produced.

He hopes that will make it even harder to pull the wool over the audience's eyes.

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