BBC fined over Russell Brand prank

Ofcom cites pubcaster's flawed editorial processes

LONDON -- U.K. media regulator Ofcom has fined the BBC £150,000 ($222,000) for its editorial failings over the Russell Brand affair, citing "the extraordinary nature and seriousness of the BBC's (editorial) failures" over the handling of lewd phone calls that were later broadcast on air.

"The scale of the fine reflects the fact that the BBC broadcast explicit, intimate and confidential information about Georgina Baillie, the granddaughter of the actor Andrew Sachs without consent," Ofcom said in its report of the events of October 2008, when Brand and TV presenter Jonathan Ross made obscene phone calls to actor Andrew Sachs, telling him in voicemails that Brand had had sex with his granddaughter.

"This not only unwarrantably and seriously infringed their privacy but was also gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning," Ofcom said.

The prerecorded show was later broadcast without being changed, generating more than 50,000 complaints to the BBC.

The fallout from the affair saw Brand and Radio 2 controller Leslie Douglas resign, while Ross was suspended from BBC airwaves for three months without pay.

In a highly critical report, Ofcom said that the BBC's editorial processes had been comprehensively flawed, despite a wholesale review of compliance procedures following the row over faked phone competitions in 2007.

The regulator identified six major failings in BBC processes, including an executive producer who failed to follow compliance procedures, failure to secure informed consent from either Andrew Sachs or Georgina Baillie and, crucially, the fact that no senior Radio 2 staff had listened to the program before it was broadcast.

"These overall weaknesses set the scene for the very serious failures of the BBC's compliance systems that resulted in the repeated broadcast of exceptionally offensive, humiliating and demeaning material," Ofcom reported.

The BBC's management board, the BBC Trust, said that it was disappointed that Ofcom had opted to fine the pubcaster, saying it had acted quickly to censure those involved and had apologized unreservedly to all parties.

"The Trust regrets that these serious breaches by the BBC have led to a financial penalty being applied by Ofcom and the loss of license fee payers' money as a result," the BBC Trust said.

In a separate statement from BBC management, the pubcaster accepted responsibility for the failures but said it has rectified its procedures.

"As we said last October, this material should never have been broadcast and we apologized unreservedly for that," the BBC said. "The BBC has since taken comprehensive action to deal with what were unacceptable failures in editorial judgment and compliance which led to the broadcast."
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