Oxfordshire local radio station Banbury Sound has been found in breach of the Ofcom Broadcast Code after admitting one of its presenters used a 'fake' caller for an on-air competition.
The presenter – who used his own son as a contestant – has now left the station and owners Quidem say all staff have been reminded about ensuring competitions are run fairly.
The fake calls happened for five days last October, only a couple of weeks after Quidem had taken over as owners of the Banbury station. It was during a feature called 'Quizroads' on the station's breakfast show where a contestant answers questions each day for a week and their score was entered into a league table with a chance to win prizes worth £1000.
Bosses at Quidem contacted Ofcom to highlight the issue, telling the regulator that "following an allegation by other staff members, the presenter … admitted that he falsified the Quizroads contest for the week … by substituting a genuine listener with his 17 year old son playing the contest under an alias."
Quidem later said that the presenter had considered the action editorially justified because he'd been unable to make contact with the genuine entrant for that week's part of the competition.
Banbury Sound bosses added that they had since dismissed the presenter, suspended the competition and concluded that no real contestants had been disadvantaged by the presenter's actions. They also told the regulator that they had reminded all station staff of the group's guidelines on the fair conduct of on-air contests and obligations to comply with the Ofcom Broadcast Code.
In their judgement on the matter, published in today's Broadcast Bulletin, Ofcom said: "Broadcasters must at all times ensure that the audience is not misled as to the fair conduct of a broadcast competition. It is never acceptable for a presenter to consider that faking a competition entrant is the best and most appropriate way to conduct a competition. Broadcasters must therefore ensure that all staff responsible for conducting competitions are fully aware of the contingencies that may be acceptable to adopt, such as postponing a round of a competition, and those that should never be adopted, such as faking an entrant, In recent years, Ofcom has recorded numerous breaches of its rules relating to broadcast competitions. Ofcom has made it clear repeatedly that it expects all broadcasters to exercise particular caution in relation to the conduct of such competitions."
While Ofcom recognised that no consumer harm was caused and the broadcaster took swift action to avoid recurrence, the running of a competition for a week with a fake contestant who wasn't a genuine entrant was unfair and therefore in breach of Rule 2.13 of the code.
"Breaching the audience’s trust in this way is unacceptable, regardless of the
circumstances in which it has occurred," the report added.