BBC rebuked for payments to criminals: Airtime for Biggs conversation criticised

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THE BBC was criticised twice by the Broadcasting Standards Council yesterday, for paying criminals to participate in The Underworld, and for giving airtime on its Good Morning . . . with Anne and Nick to a cosy conversation between the train robber Ronnie Biggs and Frankie Fraser, a former criminal who appeared in The Underworld.

A book written by Fraser was also referred to in the interview. The BBC admitted to the BSC that the conversation between Biggs and Fraser had been a mistake, allowing Fraser to express his support for Biggs, and a show of goodwill which glossed over the ugliness of criminal life-styles.

The payments clearly broke the BSC's code of practice, which states that criminals should not make personal gain from retelling their stories.

The BBC stated that where payment was given, the lowest possible figure was agreed, giving an average of pounds 121 to interviewees, with the highest single sum of pounds 750.

The BBC's own guidelines say that payments should not generally be made to former criminals who are simply talking about their crimes, but exceptions are allowed when programmes could not be made without them. The BBC said yesterday that it was the BSC's more inflexible guidelines which had led to the ruling. However, the programmes caused such a furore that the BBC may decide not to make any more in that vein.

The BSC cleared The Underworld of charges that it was glamorising crime, and said there was a genuine public interest to be served by a series of this kind.

ITV yesterday issued guidelines covering 'true crime' reconstructions to cut down on gratuitous violence.

It wants to stop producers straying from the truth to make drama documentaries more interesting and give greater rights to people portrayed in true-life stories.

ITV is insisting that violence is depicted with 'the greatest restraint' and only where there is a clear journalistic purpose. ITV companies should contact people named on air - or relatives if they are dead - and inform them of intended transmission times.

People should not be portrayed smoking, drinking, having sex or swearing to enliven storylines unless it can be established they really did this.

Ian Frykberg, Sky Television's head of news and sport, has left after disagreements with the new managing director Kelvin Mackenzie, former editor of the Sun. Mr Frykberg, an Australian is known to have been unhappy about an interview with Bienvenida Buck, which Mr MacKenzie wanted to run.

Mr MacKenzie is trying to introduce more tabloid domestic stories, while plans for an international Sky News channel have been dropped.