Channel 4 fined over faked film

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CHANNEL 4 was fined yesterday for the first time in its broadcasting history after admitting that scenes in a documentary about rent boys were faked.

The Independent Television Commission imposed a pounds 150,000 penalty on the network for Too Much Too Young: Chickens, which contained sequences in which the film- makers posed as clients picking up rent boys.

When the deception was confirmed three weeks ago, Channel 4 made a public admission and blamed the film's independent producer, Mary Devine. Channel 4 said she would never work for the network again, and overhauled its programme-making guidelines.

It was this swift and decisive action, the commission said yesterday, that in part spared Channel 4 the sort of sanction imposed on Carlton Television for the faked drugs documentary The Connection. The latter had to pay pounds 2m after it was revealed that large sections of its award- winning film about an alleged new trafficking route between Colombia and London had been fabricated.

"The commission took into account that Channel 4 has responded firmly and appropriately when the full scale of the problem became known," the ITC said in a statement. "Although the breaches were serious and viewers were deceived, the incidents amounted to under three minutes of the half-hour programme. The rent boys were genuine and most of the film involved their reflections of life. The breaches and the extent of deception viewers were therefore not comparable with those in The Connection and the financial penalty reflects this."

However, Michael Jackson, Channel 4's chief executive, said he was disappointed by the fine. "The implication is that we failed in our duty to our audience, but Channel 4 is certain it did everything in its power, editorially and legally, to ensure the authenticity of this programme. Our procedures are robust ... but no procedures are proof against deliberate and organised deception."

Channel 4 is still in dispute with Nottingham City Council over a forthcoming programme called Staying Lost, a documentary about children in council care. The council is attempting to block the programme because it claims producers encouraged a young girl to pretend to be a prostitute and that they paid children to appear in the film.