Charities urged to minimise fallout from BBC scandals

The Comic Relief and Children in Need foundations must ensure the public knows they are entirely distinct from the BBC if the sector is to minimise the public relations damage caused by the latest controversies over BBC phone-ins, according to the Association of Charitable Foundations.

A BBC investigation found that telethons for Comic Relief, Children in Need and Sport Relief had all broadcast competitions in which members of their production teams posed as winners after technical problems prevented viewers from getting through. In the case of Sport Relief –part of Comic Relief – the physical infrastructure of the competition meant it would have been impossible for it to be run as was described on air.

“It is inevitable that the public won’t make the distinction,” said David Emerson, chief executive of the ACF. “But we in the sector must remember that the problem has been with the behaviour of BBC staff, not the foundations, which have been doing great work. There is a danger that the controversy will have an impact on fundraising for these two bodies.”

Meanwhile, speaking on ITV News, Acevo chief executive Stephen Bubb called for swift action from the BBC. He said: “Last year, Comic Relief and Children in Need raised more than £100m for charities in the UK and across the globe. Any dent in public trust in these appeals will have very serious consequences for the charities that benefit from them. The BBC needs to act quickly to ensure there is no room for doubt.”

The BBC has now suspended all phone-ins and interactive competitions and will meet broadcasting regulator Ofcom to discuss how it can avoid similar incidents in the future. Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the BBC Trust, said he would suspend judgement for a year in order to give Mark Thompson, director-general of the BBC, a chance to improve editorial standards.

The revelations are the latest in a series of scandals involving television phone-in competitions, including one involving long-running children’s programme Blue Peter. Another children’s programme, TMi, and a BBC World Service pop music programme were also found to have used members of their production teams to pose as competition winners. On radio station BBC 6, the Liz Kershaw Show was found to have included wholly fictitious phone-in competitions in pre-recorded programmes, presented as if they were live.

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