Talkback – Radio Pacific – host rude to callers
Principle 1 – no tape – reported remarks not exceptional in talkback context – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Talkback discussion about equestrian Mark Todd’s alleged cocaine use was broadcast on Radio Pacific on 6 July 2000 between 7.00–8.00am. The host supported Mr Todd.
Alex Watson complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the host’s conduct had been objectionable. He cited some examples of callers being subjected to what he termed abusive treatment after expressing their views, and noted that although some callers had tried to remonstrate with the host, they had been cut off before they could speak. In his view, this was not part of free speech talkback, and did nothing for the reputation of the station.
As The RadioWorks did not respond to Mr Watson within the statutory time-frame, he referred the matter to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
The RadioWorks advised that it had no record of having received Mr Watson’s earlier correspondence and that as the time period for retaining broadcast material had lapsed, it was unable to provide the Authority with a recording of the broadcast.
The station reported that it had spoken to the host, who apologised to Mr Watson for any distress caused. It acknowledged that the host had a style which could upset some listeners, but that they were free to telephone and debate the issues of the day with him. It declined to uphold the complaint.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
The members of the Authority have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
The allegation that equestrian Mark Todd had used cocaine was the topic for discussion on a talkback programme broadcast on 6 July 2000 between 7.00–8.00am. The host, Mark Bennett, defended Mr Todd.
Alex Watson complained to The RadioWorks about the behaviour of the host during a talkback programme on Radio Pacific. He considered the host’s behaviour to be unacceptable in free speech talkback. Mr Watson cited examples of the host cutting off callers after speaking rudely to them.
As he received no response from The RadioWorks within the statutory time limit, Mr Watson referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. He repeated that he considered the host’s manner to be unacceptable, and not in line with Radio Pacific’s slogan "more stimulating talk".
The RadioWorks advised that it had no record of having received Mr Watson’s earlier correspondence. It advised that as the time period for retaining broadcast material had now lapsed, it was unable to provide the Authority with a recording of the broadcast. It advised that it had spoken to the host, and that while he could not confirm the exact wording of the remarks in question, apologised for any distress caused to Mr Watson. It continued:
[The host] does have a style of broadcasting that may upset some listeners. We do not apologise for this, but do encourage listeners to telephone and debate the issues of the day with him.
It declined to uphold the complaint.
Mr Watson’s final comment noted that he intended to take up with NZ Post the matter of the missing correspondence. He suggested it was "convenient" that the time for retaining tapes had elapsed owing to a lack of action by the broadcaster.
Mr Watson said he was well aware of the host’s style, as he listened to him most evenings. However, he said, he stood by his complaint and "still say that his intemperate language and behaviour was unacceptable."
Mr Watson subsequently reported that he had attempted to trace his letter through NZ Post but was advised that there was no tracking facility for individual letters.
The Authority deals first with the non-receipt of the complaint. It has no reason not to accept the broadcaster’s explanation that, despite the systems which it has in place to log correspondence, there was no record of its having received Mr Watson’s letter. Although there was no tape of the broadcast, the broadcaster proceeded to deal with the complaint as requested by the Authority.
From the description provided by Mr Watson, the Authority does not consider the exchange to be exceptional in the talkback context. It acknowledges the broadcaster’s argument that its hosts are inclined to be provocative, and considers that this accounts for the conduct to which Mr Watson objected. It also notes that Mr Watson was himself familiar with the host’s style. However, as no tape of the exchange was available to assist the Authority, it concludes that it is unable to make a definitive finding on this complaint. Accordingly, the Authority declines in all the circumstances to determine the complaint under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
9 November 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: