BBC withheld phone in cash from charities

The BBC withheld £106,000 in proceeds from premium rate phone features in its shows which should have gone to charity, an independent investigation has revealed.

Audiocall, the division of BBC Worldwide responsible for PRS, operated a policy of keeping money from calls made after phone lines had officially closed, even when the proceeds from the phone-in were meant to go to charity.

A report by PricewaterhouseCoopers, commissioned as one of several attempts to uncover and resolve PRS problems at the BBC, found the practice went on between October 2005 and September 2007 and affected services linked to numerous programmes. One of the largest contributors was a phone vote for Eurovision: Making Your Mind Up 2007.

In light of the finding, the BBC has paid the money, with interest, to the charities concerned. The BBC Trust has also decided there will be an on-air apology to viewers and the charities.

The Trust, reviewing PricewaterhouseCooper's findings, said the BBC was in breach of editorial guidelines.

"The [Trust's Editorial Standards Committee] accepted that the programme teams and departments in the relevant UK public services were not conscious of the practice by Audiocall of retaining the charitable element of the cost of a premium rate service call when phone lines were closed," it said in a statement.

"However since the broadcaster is responsible for what it says on air there was a breach of the Editorial Guidelines regarding accuracy and interacting with audiences. Notwithstanding the fact that the BBC programme teams did not realise that the charitable portion was withheld, the ESC found that the breaches were nonetheless serious and repeated over time."

As well as the PricewaterhouseCoopers report on economic aspects of PRS, the BBC Trust has published its review of moves made by the corporation aimed at avoiding editorial breaches in the future. As well as phone and text line abuses, several programmes were last year found to have faked competitions and misled viewers.

"Following an extensive and independent evaluation of the BBC’s response to the failings revealed during 2007, the Trust is pleased to report that the BBC’s editorial controls are now much stronger," it said. "Some changes have yet to be fully implemented, but early indicators are positive and crucially, managers and staff have demonstrated energy and commitment to putting right the wrongs of the past."

The latest reviews have identified some additional measures which the BBC will also take including the establishment of a new Interactive Advice and Compliance Unit.