Virgin fined £75,000 for 'offensive' show

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The Independent Online

Virgin radio has been fined £75,000 after allowing a nine-year-old girl to play in a live late-night competition called Swearword Hangman.

The punishment is the sixth time Virgin has been fined by the Radio Authority for breaking broadcasting rules, the worst record of any station.

Just before midnight on 18 January, on Jon Holmes's late-night show, the child was competing in a game that asked callers to guess the letters of an obscene phrase. The girl was prompted to say it and repeat it three times in what the Radio Authority yesterday called a "highly offensive" and "totally unacceptable" programme that would be "inappropriate even in the context of adult alternative comedy".

Richard Hooper, chairman, of the watchdog organisation, said it was a serious breach of the Broadcasting Act rules on taste, decency and offence to public feeling. "To its credit, Virgin Radio has acknowledged the seriousness of the complaint received, has made no attempt to excuse the content of the live broadcast and has told us it has taken steps to prevent this happening again," he said. "Without that immediate response, the members of the authority are clear the sanction imposed would have been higher."

The authority also stressed its "grave concern" that Virgin Radio did not have programme production and supervision systems in place to ensure it did not breach the rules.

The show was scrapped. Holmes, one of the figures behind BBC Radio 4's Dead Ringers programme, had broadcast several near-the-knuckle items since beginning a weekly comedy spot for the station in October last year.

The DJ has been sacked. A spokesman for the station said: "Virgin Radio accept that Jon Holmes's broadcast was completely inappropriate and unacceptable. We regret the on-air misjudgement."