72/00 16 May 2000
RADIO AUTHORITY FINES VIRGIN RADIO
The Radio Authority announced today (16 May) that it has fined Virgin Radio £75,000 for a serious breach of the rules requiring due impartiality from broadcasters. In the Virgin Breakfast Show on 21 March 2000, Chris Evans expressed live on air, in two extended pieces, his support for Ken Livingstone in the London Mayoral Election.
The Chair of the Authority, Richard Hooper said:
"Political impartiality is a cornerstone of British broadcasting, strongly supported by all governments and public opinion over many years. Radio spectrum is a scarce public resource which brings with it unambiguous obligations in the public interest. This broadcast by Virgin was a flagrant breach of the long-standing rules surrounding political impartiality, made worse by the fact that the broadcast took place in the run-up to that most sensitive of political events, an election. The breach also demonstrated a critical failure of compliance by the licensee, and we are determined that this shall not be repeated."
This broadcast breached section 90(3) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, as well as the Authority's News and Current Affairs Code. The Authority had drawn the attention of all stations to these requirements just eleven days before the programme in question.
At their meeting on Thursday 11 May, the Members of the Authority stressed their concern over the failure of the company to have in place proper procedures to ensure compliance with the requirements of Virginís national AM and local London FM licences. Chris Evans first aired his support of Ken Livingstone at length after the 8.00 am news and again an hour later in an interview with a news reporter. The station had not only failed to ensure that its presenters were fully aware of the rules on due impartiality but had allowed a second breach to be aired. This is the fifth time that a fine has been imposed on Virgin Radio since it began broadcasting in 1993.
The Radio Authority concluded that the broadcast clearly contravened all of the following:
A guidance note on the London Mayoral Election was issued to stations on 10 March 2000 by the Authority's Director of Programming and Advertising. It stated that "Non-news programmes must avoid giving undue prominence to any single candidate at the expense of others."
The Members of the Authority welcomed the fact that Virgin had immediately accepted that the broadcast had indeed breached both the Act and the News & Current Affairs Code, and that in the following dayís breakfast programme there were some attempts to make amends for the breach. The fine was moderated accordingly, although it remains the largest yet imposed by the Authority. Since the broadcast was carried on a national as well as a local station, the Authority could have fined Virgin Radio up to 5% of qualifying revenue (i.e. revenue gained from advertising and sponsorship), that is to say around £1 million.
NOTES TO EDITORS: