BBC must introduce ‘internal mechanism’ to protect licence fee payers, say chapels

By staff writers
April 6, 2009

The BBC should introduce a way of protecting licence fee payers, the Independent Church Union Council in Wales has said.

The comments came as regulator Ofcom said that Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand cannot be made to pay the £150,000 BBC fine by law.

The media regulator imposed the fine last week over the prank phone calls made on Radio 2 by both comedians.

At the time of the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand scandal last year, the Independent Church Union Council in Wales wrote to BBC Trust Chair Sir Michael Lyons asking the Trust to ensure that any fine imposed by OFCOM should be taken from the substantial fees, which run into millions, paid to Ross and Brand.

Sir Michael replied that the BBC has “no mechanism” to do this. As a result, the OFCOM fine of £150,000 will come from central BBC funds, which the chapels point out is licence payers’ money.

“This is adding injury to insult” the chapel Union’s council said in a statement. It is now calling on the BBC Trust to implement such mechanisms to ensure that licence fee payers will not be penalised “when broadcasters behave in such an irresponsible manner in future”.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said she thought the stars should be made to pay the penalty themselves.

But an Ofcom spokesman said the fine was "levied against the BBC and not individuals" and "to do so would require a change in the law".

The fine was imposed for what Ofcom called "gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning" prank calls, which were broadcast last October.

Ofcom said: "Parliament decided for very serious breaches of our broadcasting rules the BBC would be subject to a maximum fine of £250,000.

"These powers only allow for fines to be levied against the BBC and not individuals, to do so would require a change in the law."

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