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BBC admits it went too far in U2 tie-up

BBC's editorial complaints unit says promotion, which included concert on roof of Broadcasting House, breached guidelines

U2 play on the roof of BBC Broadcasting House

U2 play on the roof of BBC Broadcasting House in February 2009. Photograph: Stephen Hird/Reuters

The BBC today admitted that it breached its guidelines in promoting U2's latest album, No Line on the Horizon, and that altering its logo to "U2=BBC" was inappropriate.

The corporation's editorial complaints unit said coverage of last year's album launch, which included a concert on the roof of Broadcasting House, amounted to "undue prominence for commercial products or organisations" and breached BBC editorial guidelines.

It said the use of the slogan U2=BBC "gave an inappropriate impression of endorsement", and said a reference to the BBC being "part of launching this new album", in an interview between Zane Lowe and U2's Bono on BBC Radio 1, was inappropriate.

Critics complained at the time of the launch, last February, that the BBC had given the band millions of pounds' worth of free publicity across TV, radio and online.

The commercial radio trade body, the RadioCentre, made a formal complaint. Conservative MP Nigel Evans said it was "the sort of publicity money can't buy. Why should licence fee-payers shoulder the cost of U2's publicity?"

But complaints about an edition of Jo Whiley's Radio 1 show, and a BBC News online report of the U2 concert on the roof of Broadcasting House, were not upheld.

The complaints unit said its findings had been discussed at the Radio 1 and sister station 1Xtra editorial meeting.

It added: "In addition, the Radio 1 leadership team have reminded executive producers and presenters about the issues to be considered in relation to judgments about undue prominence, and the distinction between the reporting of new artistic work and commercial promotion.

"The management of BBC marketing, communication and audiences (the division responsible for the U2=BBC graphic) has reminded all staff of the need to consult the editorial policy team in a timely manner for advice when potentially sensitive issues such as commercial interests are involved. A session on working with third parties will be included in marketing, communication and audiences monthly editorial issues training programme."

"We acknowledge the findings and have taken note for the future," a BBC spokesman said.

The unit also upheld a complaint from the RadioCentre about the BBC's coverage of a tour by Coldplay. The "Radio 1 presents Coldplay" website included a link to the websites of ticket agents, which the unit said was "not in keeping with the BBC's guidelines on links to external websites".

Previously, the BBC fair trading committee upheld a complaint about the Radio 1 promotion of Coldplay.

The U2 ruling marks the second rebuke for Radio 1 this week, with the editorial complaints unit ruling that a Radio 1 interview with two British National party members was not rigorous enough.

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BBC admits it went too far in U2 tie-up

This article was published on guardian.co.uk at 17.34 GMT on Wednesday 13 January 2010. It was last modified at 17.57 GMT on Wednesday 13 January 2010.

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  • JunkkMale JunkkMale

    13 Jan 2010, 6:02PM

    Ah well, they're only guidelines, eh?

    Made to be... well... you know. For the future.

    And I'm pretty sure they still haven't found what they are looking for (sorry:).

    Unique.

  • mollyminx mollyminx

    13 Jan 2010, 6:17PM

    Hardly anyone saw them live on the rooftop either. Not exactly a mobbed out event. Perhaps everyone was scared Bono might start lecturing. Hypocritical twerp that he is.

  • lozd lozd

    13 Jan 2010, 6:18PM

    Par for the course at the BBC, it seems. It's undeniable that a huge amount of their content is (a) blatant promotion of third-party commercial wares, or (b) blatant cross-promotion of their own bloody programmes.

  • noneother noneother

    13 Jan 2010, 6:22PM

    Actually given how crap U2 are these days surely their work is not of a commercial nature and therefore fair game for the BBC - although I'm not sure that broadcasting such rubbish is a public service.

    i dont think it's possible to hate U2 more than I do.

    @MagicAlex - sounds like the title of a Pet Shop Boys track, kind of along the tune to "and left to my own devices I probably would"...

  • alibal alibal

    13 Jan 2010, 6:27PM

    @MagicAlex - I would like to disagree - I probably hate U2 more than anyone, but either way it makes me happy to know there is someone else with an intensity of hate going on for them.

    Although I don't approve of hate of course.

  • Charax Charax

    13 Jan 2010, 6:31PM

    Nothing ever happens after these rebukes. Some retraining maybe, sometimes a small fine and everything continues as normal. the Sachsgate thing was the only time anything significant happened because of one of these findings.

  • stfcbob stfcbob

    13 Jan 2010, 6:36PM

    I remember shouting at the TV when this shameless promotion of U2 was going on.

    What about all the other bands who are releasing decent, cutting edge music that don`t even get a footnote on BBC.

  • UnsocialScientist UnsocialScientist

    13 Jan 2010, 6:46PM

    It's telling that the complaints were from Radiocentre.

    RadioCentre formed in July 2006 from the merger of the Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) and the Commercial Radio Companies Association (CRCA). Its members consist of the overwhelming majority of UK Commercial Radio stations who fund the organisation.

    This organization has a vested interest in complaining about the BBC. De facto most things the BBC do will be to someone's benefit. There are not loud cries about the publicity given to other commercial coverage - The Proms springs instantly to mind - music provided by professional musicians just like U2.
    On the other hand the fellow CIFer who talks of the cross advertising of BBC shows is on the money. Breakfast is merely a poorly produced trailer for other shows punctuated by multiple exclamations of "awesome" from clichéd reporters .

  • Dostoyevsky01 Dostoyevsky01

    13 Jan 2010, 6:59PM

    There was those of us, who work in the industry, that said this at the time. It was alleged that the amount of promo that U2 received was probably the equivalent of a multi million pound promo campaign.

    But then again, is there any real surprise that Lesley Douglas - former head of Radio 2 - went to work for Universal (U2's label) after the Ross/Brand scandal....something needs to be done about the major record labels' access to tax payer funded broadcasting to the detriment of smaller labels and independent artists.

    The whole of the BBC should be opened up to the independent sector in a transparent and fair way.

    "Lesley Douglas, the BBC Radio 2 controller who resigned last month in the wake of the Sachsgate affair, has been appointed to Universal Music in a new role focused on creating television platforms for its artists. "
    The Telegraph Nov 2008

  • awaywithpixie awaywithpixie

    13 Jan 2010, 7:00PM

    @liedowntickle. I agree with you that it wasn't their best album. It was indeed their worst, but unfortunately, 35 million copies of it were sold worldwide, which sadly shows that people have no taste in music.

  • MrooHaHaHaHa MrooHaHaHaHa

    13 Jan 2010, 7:00PM

    Reminds me of my favourite joke.

    U2 are playing a packed out concert (some years ago of course) and at the end of one of their songs, Bono brings the crowd to a silence. He gets down on one knee and starts clapping. One clap every three seconds. Bono speaks to the audience in between claps ?Every time (clap). I clap my hands (clap). A child in Africa dies (clap). ? He continues to clap.

    The crowd remains hushed, tears can be heard, grown men are weeping, women are deep in prayer, when a man shouts from the middle of the crowd at the top of his voice ?Well stop clapping your fucking hands then!?

    Their music might be shite nowadays but at least they can make us laugh.

  • sundance85 sundance85

    13 Jan 2010, 7:02PM

    I'm still yet to know anyone that actually likes or listens to U2

    well when i saw U2 over the summer in millenium stadium there was certainly 60,000 fans there who loved U2, and i personally thought the latest album was quite good, and despite all the U2 hating, im sure all of you will have atleast one U2 song that you find catchy, even if you cant admit it. They didnt become the worlds biggest rock band by being Sh1t did they?

    I normally wouldnt care about this sort of article but its a bit of a kick in the teeth with the BBC giving U2 so much publicity, however during cast lead attack on gaza last year, wouldnt let humanitarian groups appeal for aid on BBC platforms

  • notherway notherway

    13 Jan 2010, 7:12PM

    He's a mixed up man, our old bone-o. You have to try to humanely empathize with how he's got all his world views mixed up, too. That's why the BBC embraces him, he truly believes he's got the world sorted!

    Hopefully, one day, he'll realise what a perfect tool he's been.

  • jenosw jenosw

    13 Jan 2010, 7:18PM

    It doesn't matter whether you hate the band, and I do, it only added to the annoyingness. It could have been a week of Arctic Monkeys and it would still have been inappropriate.

    This is stupid: 'and said a reference to the BBC being "part of launching this new album", in an interview between Zane Lowe and U2's Bono on BBC Radio 1, was inappropriate'

    No, it was entirely accurate, it was inappropriate that the decision was made to promote them across the corporation, that's what was inappropriate. With a push of this magnitude that decision was undoubtedly that of the Director General as well, which suggests that the business is rotten from top to bottom. We paid for the promotion and now we pay for the retraining? It should be obvious to anyone at the BBC, however sketchy their knowledge of the remit, that this was WAY over the top. It stank of money.

  • sgl1965 sgl1965

    13 Jan 2010, 7:27PM

    Ha Ha, yet another reason not to pay for a TV licence. It wouldn't be so bad if it was a good band but U2, I can't deny they have written some good songs but Bono makes my skin crawl, he's Cliff Richard and Tony Blair rolled into one.

  • WillDuff WillDuff

    13 Jan 2010, 7:27PM

    The corporation's editorial complaints unit said coverage of last year's album launch, which included a concert on the roof of Broadcasting House, amounted to "undue prominence for commercial products or organisations" and breached BBC editorial guidelines.

    They're not kidding! Why didn't anybody see this coming? A band has a new album they want to promote and the BBC lets them do it on the roof of Broadcasting House and nobody thinks it might not be a good idea?!

    And that it should be U2 of all bands - that tired old self-important relic - is so particularly sad.

    There are not loud cries about the publicity given to other commercial coverage - The Proms springs instantly to mind - music provided by professional musicians just like U2.

    That's quite different. In the case of the Proms or Jools Holland or Top of the Pops (RIP) or studio concerts on radio 1(do they still do those?) the BBC is providing live(ish) music as part of a programme for listeners' entertainment. It's part of what they do, bringing culture to people, and it's on the BBC's own terms. This was just shameless advertising.

  • Aicram Aicram

    13 Jan 2010, 7:33PM

    I used to love U2, I saw them in the early days playing in plubs and clubs and they were great, I loved them until they went to the states and started doing stadiums and started to believe their own publicity. I remember going to see them at Wembley and saying that was the last time I'd go see them and it was. I'm sure Bonehead means well but shut the fxxk up man, or pay some bleedin taxes like the rest of us do, and feed the world with that, can't bear to see him cosying up with the likes of Bliar, Bush and the Pope etc.

  • paulsandham paulsandham

    13 Jan 2010, 7:38PM

    Last album wasn't that bad, in fact, I am ashamed to say that there are a couple of genuinely good tracks on it,

    Like it or not U2 are one of the most successful bands on the planet. If any of the whining wannabe mail readers that seem to love saying U2 are shite want to listen to independent, small label bands erm BBC's Radios 1 & 6 are the only reliable places on terrestrial radio that are likely to play them... The interpretation of the "free-publicity" is a bit rich in that just about every famous individual that appears on the Beeb (and any other broadcaster) is plugging their latest book, film, or music, including clips etc.

    No doubt that there may have been a little influence exerted by Universal's new employee.. but in a less easily upset about sweet nothing world this could be seen from one perspective as a bit of a coup for the BBC.

    No doubt that the public persona of the bloke with sunglasses is dodgy as f*** but can the naysayers and U2 are crap CIF'rs go and find something worthwhile to get het up about?

    I think that the fact that the original complaint appears to have come from the BBC's cruddy commercial radio trade body competitors demonstrates just how pathetic this is. An organisation that represents the interests of broadcasters who have been complaining of unfair competition from the BBC or decades.. BTW the Guardian media group need to be brought into this too as i write this the related information shows a number of blatant plugs / sorry news articles on U2...

  • SkyeMartyn SkyeMartyn

    13 Jan 2010, 7:45PM

    Personally I'm more worried about the tie up between the BBC and the Israeli Embassy. Remember the humanitarian appeal for the poor people of Gaza that was prevented, despite the UN admitting war crimes have been committed? How many lives were lost that could have been saved had the BBC allowed the appeal?

    So, you may not like U2. There are far more serious problems at the BBC than a tie up with a band. In my book blocking something that could save people is far more important than a bit of marketing, but it appears I'm in a minority.

  • SuperClive SuperClive

    13 Jan 2010, 7:50PM

    "The management of BBC marketing, communication and audiences (the division responsible for the U2=BBC graphic) has reminded all staff..."

    "the Radio 1 leadership team have reminded executive producers and presenters about..."

    The trouble is, it's the "management" and "leadership team" who are to blame for this kind of thing. They're the ones who decided to buddy up so close to U2 in the first place.

  • Micktrick Micktrick

    13 Jan 2010, 8:04PM

    U2 should be an inspiration to all ambitious musos. They show how far it's possible to go with a minimum of talent. The Cliff Richard syndrome. Long career with only a handful of decent output to show for it. Although to be fair, the album in question does contain a nifty Roxy Music tribute song titled Magnificent.
    I liked it when Jonathon Ross told them that people groan when they are told that U2 are appearing on his show. Pot and kettle yes but it was still funny. Bono and Edge were surprisingly stuck for words and looked surprised when he said it. I know their supporters will argue that U2 represent misunderstood genius. Personally I think Mr Burns was spot on.

  • hellomeow hellomeow

    13 Jan 2010, 8:05PM

    despite all the U2 hating, im sure all of you will have atleast one U2 song that you find catchy, even if you cant admit it.

    Im sorry, I cant admit to something that isnt true.

    I cant think of a single one I've even remotely liked Im afrraid!

  • blighty blighty

    13 Jan 2010, 8:08PM

    I like U2 and was sorry to have missed the rooftop thing despite only working round the corner, but I don't listen to the radio much so didn't know it was on until afterwards.
    I didn't think they were the only people to get a rooftop gig at the Beeb, but even I was suprised at the amount of publicity the BBC gave them, especially the 'U2=BBC' thing. I think "U2@BBC" would have been more sensible, the '=' is a hell of an endorsement, and its not like they need financial help fro promotions.

    I think its a shame that so many people go out of their way to lay into Bono. He uses his fame, his star power to at least try and get political help with humanitarian issues. He may make an utter bell-end of himself sometimes while he's doing it, he may be largely unsuccessful while still giving good PR to the politicians that like to be seen with him, but he still keeps trying because he believes in it.
    I remember around the time of the original Live aid and Feed The World and so on, it was very fashionable for stars to bang on about how they are in a position to raise awareness and catalyse real support, well we don't hear much from many of them any more. Oh they turn up to fundraisers and Comic Relief if they are invited or its their patron charity, but everyone has to be very conscious of their image and how it affects their career. I don't think I could keep doing it if I knew everyone thought of me as a sanctimonious prick because of it. Bono's made his money and is doing something useful with his time, he knows that U2 fans will still buy his music. I've liked U2 since the beginning, and have never found Bono to be a particularly charming or likeable fellow, just alright I suppose. I've never had a problem with his humanitarian crusade though, that would just be a bit crap, really.

  • greatdivide greatdivide

    13 Jan 2010, 8:14PM

    Multi-millionaire Irish hotelier Sir Paul Hewson has a highly disproportionate influence over right-on institutions like the BBC because of the political views he expresses when in public. But the fact remains he is an unmitigated and ruthless capitalist who owns hotels and moved his considerable wealth out of Ireland to avoid paying tax there. Why people look up to this I do not know. Also, that last album was awful.

  • Te1ecaster Te1ecaster

    13 Jan 2010, 8:24PM

    @SkyeMartyn

    A ridiculously off-topic comment, as well as being completely inaccurate (the UN didn't 'admit' anything of the sort.

    Your pontificating pomposity reminds me of.... Except the bespectacled one has actually earned the right to be listened to, no matter what the musical snobs amongst you might think!

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