Blue Peter used actors to pose as viewers

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LONDON, Nov 9 (Reuters) The BBC's flagship children's show ''Blue Peter'' admitted today it had used actors to pose as young viewers during a ''light-hearted item'' on one of its programmes.

The show, which has been embroiled in a series of fakery scandals this year, had invited youngsters to send in questions for actor Jon Culshaw via its Web site.

Four children were selected to appear on the show and put their question to the star of the satirical series ''Dead Ringers''.

But two other children were actors from a drama group.

The BBC said in a statement that none of the children had received payment, it had not been a competition and no prizes were offered or awarded.

It added: ''It would have been preferable not to have given viewers the impression that all the children in the item had contacted the programme through the Web site.'' A source said the two actors had come up with their own questions, and had been invited on the show because there had been an insufficient number of good questions which had come through the site.

The incident happened in September 2005 and failed to come to light during an internal BBC probe ordered by Director-General Mark Thompson earlier this year.

It was revealed by The Sun newspaper after it spoke to one of the viewers taking part.

It is the latest scandal to hit the long-running popular children's programme.

In September, it was revealed Blue Peter producers had deceived thousands of viewers by ignoring their online votes to choose a name for the show's kitten -- preferring Socks over the youngster's choice of Cookie.

In July, media regulator Ofcom fined the BBC 50,000 pounds over a faked phone-in contest nine months earlier.

Nearly 40,000 children phoned Blue Peter last November in the hope of winning a toy but a technical fault meant no winning entrant could be chosen. Instead, a child taking part in a visit to the studio was persuaded to pose as the winner and to say she was phoning from London.

All three instances occurred when editor Richard Marson was at the helm. He has since left the BBC.

The BBC's statement said: ''In recent months we've taken a number of measures to ensure we get these things completely right, including the introduction of special training, so that viewers can continue to have complete confidence in the programme.'' REUTERS YA RK2200

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