The BBC's attempt to distance itself from Coca-Cola's controversial sponsorship of the British pop music charts has been undermined by UK newspaper reports.

Daily broadsheet The Guardian claims BBC executives knew in advance about the deal between Coke and the Official UK Charts Company, whose weekly music sales countdown is used by BBC1 TV show Top of the Pops and the broadcaster's youth-targeted radio station Radio One.

The publicly funded BBC does not accept advertising or sponsorship on its television or radio stations. However, its internal guidelines allow it to mention sponsors of other organisations' events or products -- meaning it can credit Coke as the charts' sponsor in the closing titles of Top of the Pops and give the firm two verbal plugs during Radio One's Sunday countdown.

The deal was announced last week [WAMN: 03-Dec-03], and immediately met a wave of criticism from health campaigners and MPs angry that Coke could access a youth audience in this way. The BBC tried to distance itself from the agreement, claiming it was "not involved" in the sponsorship negotiations and playing down the scale of the plugs [WAMN: 05-Dec-03].

Yet The Guardian has discovered that Radio One controller Andy Parfitt knew about the deal last month and discussed it with other BBC executives.

The commercialisation of the BBC and the marketing of unhealthy snacks to children are two of the hottest potatoes in UK media -- yet executives apparently failed to realise that back-door sponsorship of youth-oriented programming by a purveyor of sugary pop might cause a storm of protest.

The BBC has been in a similar position before. At one time the charts were sponsored by website in a deal that was criticised by Trevor Dann, the BBC's head of music entertainment at the time. According to Dann, the BBC on that occasion decided not to stand up to the record industry and oppose the deal because it feared the charts could be shifted to a commercial rival.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff