Channel 4 fined for Red Bull plug on Richard and Judy show

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The film included endorsements of the caffeinated drink from the Formula 1 racing driver Johnny Herbert, whose cars have been sponsored by Red Bull, and the golfer Paul Casey, who told viewers: "Red Bull really assists me in keeping sharp and alert."

Another contributor to the C4 item was the academic Dr Louise Reyner, who told viewers: "An energy drink such as Red Bull is particularly good because it's always got 80mg of caffeine and we're recommending that people take about 160mg of caffeine ... so that equates to two cans." Ofcom's content sanctions committee discovered that Dr Reyner, of Loughborough University, received a research grant of £52,962 from Red Bull GmbH, the makers of the drink, in 2002.

The committee, which fined Channel 4 £5,000, said yesterday that the broadcaster had been guilty of "seriously breaching" its programme code by "giving undue prominence to a commercial product".

The presenters, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan, have been in similar trouble before. Their Granada TV show This Morning incurred a £500,000 penalty from Ofcom's predecessor, the Independent Television Commission, which found the show gave "undue prominence" to commercial goods in 1994. The ITC said This Morning had breached the rules eight times, plugging products from Remington shavers to Heinz foods.

Ofcom said that Richard and Judy's Red Bull item, which was broadcast on 19 July last year, was a follow up to an earlier piece on 18 May that had highlighted the potential dangers of a high-caffeine intake. This first item included the case of a young man who died in a driving accident after drinking four cans of "a caffeinated energy drink", prompting concerns from the coroner.

Ahead of the second item, Madeley delivered what he described as "a serious apology" to viewers over the May broadcast. "Unfortunately we gave you the wrong information about the amount of caffeine in the energy drink Red Bull. In fact, one can of Red Bull has the same amount of caffeine as one cup of filtered coffee," said Madeley.

The presenter added: "Hands up, our research team made a mistake which meant we unintentionally misled you. Now caffeine has been around for hundreds of years and is familiar to generations in the form of tea and coffee. It's now available to us through energy drinks such as Red Bull, power bars and other products. Billions of people have been taking caffeine for centuries and many experts maintain that caffeine and caffeinated drinks in moderation are beneficial in many different situations."

The Ofcom committee found that the July broadcast was "clearly intended to make amends for the errors contained in the earlier broadcast" and that Channel 4 had "demonstrated uncharacteristically poor judgement resulting in what appeared to be, at the very least, a loss of editorial control."

The result of this, Ofcom said, was the "distinct impression that the programme had come under external commercial influence, giving Red Bull undue prominence".