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Brand's prank calls earn BBC $220,000 fine

  • Story Highlights
  • British broadcasting watchdog says phone calls were "exceptionally" offensive
  • Ofcom fines BBC $220,000 for breaching decency rules
  • Host Russell Brand quit the show, comedian Jonathan Ross was suspended
  • Calls included jokes about actor killing himself and his granddaughter's sex life
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The BBC has been fined £150,000 ($220,000) after broadcasting two episodes of comedian Russell Brand's radio show in which he left abusive phone messages on an actor's phone.

Russell Brand was suspended after the calls were aired and then he quit.

Russell Brand was suspended after the calls were aired and then he quit.

The incident involving Brand, the host of the Radio 2 program which aired the calls, and the entertainer Jonathan Ross, who took part, provoked outrage.

The two men left a series of crude messages for actor Andrew Sachs, who played Spanish waiter Manuel in the 1970s TV comedy series "Fawlty Towers," during Brand's Saturday evening radio program on October 18.

In the messages, the men joked -- using explicit language -- about Brand's sexual relationship with Sachs' granddaughter, Georgina Baillie. At one point, Ross joked that Sachs probably had a photo of his granddaughter when she was a young girl and would see the photo as he listened to the messages.

The two men also joked that Sachs might kill himself on hearing the news -- then made further calls in which they said they were attempting to apologize, but were also abusive.

Ofcom, Britain's broadcasting watchdog, said Friday that the scale of its fine reflected the "extraordinary nature and seriousness" of the BBC's failures.

"The BBC broadcast explicit, intimate and confidential information about Georgina Baillie, the granddaughter of the actor Andrew Sachs, in both programs without their consent.

"Ofcom found that this not only unwarrantably and seriously infringed their privacy but was also gratuitously offensive, humiliating and demeaning."

It said Brand's interests had been given greater priority than the BBC's responsibility to avoid unwarranted infringements of privacy and minimize the risk of harm and offence.

Ofcom said there had been a "very serious" failure which resulted in the repeated broadcast of "exceptionally" offensive material.

Brand and Ross have apologized for the incident, with Brand resigning from the show and Ross, the BBC's highest paid employee, suspended for three months.

A top BBC official -- Lesley Douglas, controller of Radio 2, -- resigned as well, apologizing for having let the broadcast happen "on my watch."

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