The commission said yesterday that Carlton's faked drugs documentary The Connection, which picked up a shelf-full of awards after it was screened on ITV in October 1996, involved "a wholesale breach of trust between programme-makers and viewers".
Although the ITC could have levied a maximum penalty of pounds 8.3m (three per cent of Central's advertising revenue), pounds 2m still represents a fine of unprecedented severity. The largest fine to date was levied against Granada Television, which had to pay pounds 500,000 for giving products undue prominence on its This Morning programme in 1994.
In uncompromising language which reflects the commission's concern about the programme makers' misdemeanours, the ITC also said that it had "seriously considered" shortening Central's licence, a sanction it would have no hesitation in applying if a similar breach surfaced again. Sir Robin Biggam, chairman of the ITC, said: "The programme set out with ambitious claims to demonstrate the existence of a major new route for drug-running into the UK. Much of what was offered as evidence to substantiate this was fake.
"The size of the financial penalty imposed by the ITC reflects the scale of the programme's ambition and the consequent degree of deception of viewers. The board of Carlton Communications (Central's parent company) should be in no doubt that such an unprecedented breach of compliance must not be allowed to recur."
The ITC sanction follows a six-month investigation into the programme set up by Carlton but led by Michael Beloff QC, an independent counsel, and John Wilson, a former controller of editorial policy at the BBC. The Connection won eight international television awards for its extraordinary and apparently unique access to the Colombian drug smuggling trade.Reuse content