The BBC was due this weekend to make what may be the world's biggest apology to an estimated 74 million people around the world for a news fixing scandal, exposed by The Independent.
The BBC broadcast documentaries made by a London TV company which charged them as little as £1 .Meantime the company FBC Media was earning millions of pounds from PR clients featured in its programmes.
Few mentions of the apology appear today in the UK papers, perhaps preoccupied with other media matters. But the story goes to the heart of the question of the integrity of TV documentaries and is yet another black eye for the British media business .
The Star newspaper in Malaysia , one of the countries most affected, reports today, quoting the Independent, that the global apology will read: “A small number of programmes broadcast on BBC World News between February 2009 and July 2011 broke BBC rules aimed at protecting our editorial integrity.
“These rules ensure that programmes are free, and are seen to be free, from commercial or other outside pressures.”
The report said the apology will be broadcast worldwide on the BBC's World News channel to an estimated 295 million homes.
The Independent itself said on Saturday that BBC World News viewers from Kuala Lumpur to Khartoum and Bangkok to Buenos Aires will watch the remarkable broadcast, available in 295 million homes, 1.7 million hotel rooms, 81 cruise ships, 46 airlines and on 35 mobile phone platforms, at four different times, staged in order to reach audiences in different time zones.
In an investigation last year, the Independent revealed how the BBC paid fees of as little as £1 for programmes made by FBC Media (UK), whose PR client list included foreign governments and multinational companies.
The company made eight pieces for the BBC about Malaysia while failing to declare it was paid £17m by the Malaysian government for "global strategic communications". The programmes included positive coverage of Malaysia's controversial palm oil industry, said the Independent.
The BBC also used FBC to make a documentary about the spring uprising in Egypt - without knowing the firm was paid to do PR work for the regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee uncovered 15 breaches of editorial guidelines - eight of them in respect of FBC programmes made about Malaysia.
In its apology, the BBC will make a direct reference to the FBC documentaries. It will say: "In the case of eight other programmes, all of which featured Malaysia, we found that the production company which made the programmes appeared to have a financial relationship with the Malaysian government. This meant there was a potential conflict of interest, though the BBC was not aware of it when the programmes were broadcast."
The apology concludes: "Editorial integrity is the highest priority for BBC World News, which is why we apologise for these breaches of our normal standards."
FBC was run by former Financial Times journalist Alan Friedman and the CNN presenter John Defterios, said the Independent. FBC was also making editorial programmes that featured FBC clients for the global business broadcaster CNBC, which suspended its FBC-made show World Business.
Other FBC clients included the governments of Greece and Kazakhstan and companies like Microsoft.
FBC told the Independent at the time that it had kept strict divisions between its editorial and PR operations. FBC closed its London offices and went into administration in October. Broadcasting regulator Ofcom is investigating FBC, said the Independent.
A BBC spokesperson told The Drum: "We have accepted the BBC Trust’s findings and also apologised to viewers. We are committed to the highest standards of broadcasting. Since these issue were raised, we've brought forward a series of changes to tighten our systems and strengthen the protection of our editorial independence.”
It was also pointed out to The Drum that the Trust found no breaches of impartiality in any of the programmes and that it had already implemented 'a robust action plan' which had been endorsed by the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC).