The British Broadcasting Corp. said Wednesday it was suspending all phone-in contests and interactive quizzes after an investigation exposed several rigged competitions.
The BBC, which has been battered by revelations about bogus contests and doctored footage, said an internal inquiry found that “a small number of production staff ... have passed themselves off as viewers and listeners.”
BBC Director-General Mark Thompson said six new cases had been uncovered in addition to a previously known incident involving the children’s TV show “Blue Peter.”
“We must now swiftly put our house in order,” he said.
Thompson said phone-in contests on radio and TV would cease at midnight Wednesday and Internet competitions would be taken down as soon as possible.
The BBC said a review of about a million hours of output had found that since 2005 several high-profile shows, including the “Children in Need” and “Comic Relief” charity telethons, had used fictitious contest winners or members of the staff posing as viewers and listeners.
The BBC said the “Comic Relief,” “Sport Relief” and “Children in Need” telethons all passed off members of the production team as contest-winning viewers, or simply read fictional names on the air.
The offenders also included BBC domestic radio’s “Liz Kershaw” show — which featured a phone-in with no real prizes in which all of the callers were staff members or their friends. The “White Label” music program on the BBC World Service was implicated for announcing fake winners of a CD competition when no winning entries had been received.
The broadcaster also said it would also hold an independent inquiry about how clips from a documentary were reassembled to make it appear as if Queen Elizabeth II had stormed out of a photo shoot with famed American photographer Annie Leibovitz. It turned out the order of the footage had been reversed.
Last week, the BBC apologized to the queen. The BBC said production company RDF Media had made the faulty footage several months ago and that it was never intended to be seen by the public or the media.
The broadcasting corporation’s governing body, the BBC Trust, said the findings showed “deeply disappointing evidence of insufficient understanding amongst certain staff of the standards of accuracy and honesty expected” at the corporation.
Private broadcasters have also been exposed for rigging phone-in competitions. Eckoh UK Ltd., which runs contests for Channel 4’s “Richard and Judy” talk show, was fined 150,000 pounds ($308,000) earlier this month for encouraging viewers to call a premium-rate phone number even after a winner had been selected.
But the publicly funded BBC, which prides itself on its authority and impartiality, has the most to lose.
Thompson said 16,500 staff working on BBC programs would be sent to a course entitled “Safeguarding Trust.”
“Nothing matters more than trust and fair dealing with our audiences,” he said.
“It is right that we are open with the public when we have fallen short and that we demonstrate that we take this very seriously indeed.”