International broadcasters including the BBC repeatedly broke the Ofcom code by screening programmes funded by foreign governments, charities and NGOs, an investigation has revealed.
News films and documentaries were acquired for nominal fees and the identity of the funders not disclosed to the audience – in what has been dubbed a “£1 programme scandal”. Ofcom has uncovered nearly 50 breaches of its code by CNN, CNBC and the BBC after a four-year inquiry into the global news channels, which are beamed into hotel rooms around the world.
The media regulator discovered a series of contraventions of its impartiality guidelines and found hundreds of nominal-fee programmes had been paid for by bodies ranging from United Nations departments to the Indonesian ministry of trade and a Cambodian casino firm.
It said the practice carried “inherent risk to independence and editorial integrity” and it has ordered an “industry-wide” meeting of news networks to address the matter.
The Ofcom probe, the biggest it has undertaken into television content, began after an investigation in 2011 by The Independent, which revealed that a London-based media company that had received millions of pounds from the Malaysian government for public relations work was making documentaries for the BBC on the subject of Malaysia.
The Independent also detailed how the company, FBC Media (UK), had close ties to the American networks CNN and CNBC. Ofcom reported that both broadcasters had broken its rules on due impartiality.