Company paid TV network to air news programme that promoted sponsors

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The Independent Online

The London television company at the centre of a scandal which is under investigation by Ofcom was allegedly paying a global television network to broadcast a flagship news programme on which it featured commercial clients, such as the dictators of Kazakhstan and Egypt.

CNBC, the business arm of the giant American network NBC, allowed the company, FBC, to produce its supposed flagship editorial programme World Business for more than six years until it suspended the show this summer following revelations by The Independent that FBC was being paid millions of pounds a year by Malaysia to promote its national interest. The BBC was also taking editorial programmes from FBC.

In its annual report for 2005, FBC said of World Business: "The programme is now produced in the UK, without direct broadcaster funding. As from the current financial year, the business plan envisages that the show will be profitable thanks primarily to the sale of sponsorship. The costs incurred in the period on the show, for a net total of €1,114,000, have therefore been treated as an investment."

Sources from FBC, which is in the hands of an administrator, have told The Independent that the company was paying a monthly cheque to CNBC in order that World Business would be broadcast. FBC used the platform of World Business to give coverage to commercial clients such as Microsoft, American Express, Manpower and Hewlett Packard, according to the company's own files.

World Business was broadcast by CNBC Europe in the UK and shown by PBS in America and News Corp's Star World in Asia. A written FBC presentation on World Business, obtained by The Independent, made no secret of its commercial value to the company, offering clients "customised content" on World Business.

"FBC will create and produce a customised weekly 3-4 minute feature in World Business in line with a client's specific communications requirement," it states. "We can create one-off packaged stories or we can create a series of stories that reflect the values or the essence of a client's business strategy. Our editorial team will work with clients to ensure the content remains entertaining and engaging." The pitch added: "Brands can sponsor the show or invest in the creation of news segments that become part of the show."

Sources at FBC told The Independent that the company was paying $100,000 a month to CNBC for the right to broadcast World Business. When it was put to CNBC that it had received millions of dollars for broadcasting the programme, a spokesperson said: "FBC produced World Business for CNBC and other outlets. FBC was contractually obligated to produce Ofcom-compliant programmes. After questions were raised CNBC immediately suspended airing of World Business and launched an internal investigation. CNBC has since served notice to FBC to terminate its agreement with the company. We are presently liaising with Ofcom to ensure that all relevant information is provided."