Newstalk ZB – Leighton Smith – comment on fax received from Credo Society regarding standards in the media – denigrated because of beliefs
Principle 5 – not dealt with unfairly – no disrespect shown – no uphold
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
Parts of a fax from Mrs Barbara Faithfull of the Credo Society Inc were read out by host Leighton Smith on Newstalk ZB on 26 July 2000 at about 8.48am. The host suggested that there was not a lot of support for her views.
Barbara Faithfull, secretary of the Credo Society Inc, complained to The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, about what she called the derisive tone in which her fax had been read. She objected to the host’s failure to refer to some matters she had raised in her faxed letter. In her view, she had been treated unfairly, and had been disparaged for her views.
In its response, TRN suggested that Mrs Faithfull was "over sensitive" in her reaction to the host’s comments. It noted that her views were well known and were frequently outside accepted norms and were therefore subject to criticism, satire or knockbacks in the talkback forum. It rejected the complaint.
Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mrs Faithfull referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
For the reasons given below, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.
A discussion on talkback radio about declining standards in the media elicited a fax from Mrs Barbara Faithfull the following day. Part of her letter was read out by the host on Newstalk ZB on 26 July 2000 at about 8.48am and about half an hour later she was referred to by him as "good old Barbara".
Mrs Faithfull complained to TRN that Principles 5b and 7a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice had been breached. Those principles read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.
5b Care must be taken in the editing of programme material to ensure that the extracts used are a true reflection and not a distortion of the original event or the overall views expressed.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7a Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:
i) factual, or
ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or
iii) by way of legitimate humour or satire.
Mrs Faithfull reported that she had written to the host because she considered he had been dismissive in his treatment of a woman caller the previous day. She complained that when he read from her fax, he had done so in a "disdainful and sarcastic tone", beginning by saying that he thought she must have "passed on by now". After reading most of the first page of her letter, she noted that he made a "shallow and inept comment" that nothing could be done about the problem raised by the previous day’s caller. This she said, was despite her demonstrating in her letter that indeed something could be done.
Mrs Faithfull also objected to the host’s "sneering" comment that nobody wanted to listen to her views. Half an hour later, she said, a personal gibe was directed at her when she had been referred to as "good old Barbara".
The complainant contended that Principle 7a was breached by the host’s disparaging attitude. She maintained that the clear implication had been that she was "simply a silly old fogey", was not worth taking seriously and that nobody listened to her. Such an assertion, Mrs Faithfull continued, was diametrically opposed to the facts. She provided some examples where she had received positive feedback from others in the media.
In its response, TRN suggested that Mrs Faithfull had been "a little over sensitive" in her reaction. It noted that the host’s comment that she must have passed on was based on the fact that for many years she had "hounded" talkback radio, but had then seemingly disappeared. It wrote:
Your views, while legitimately held, are well known, frequently outside accepted norms and therefore subject in such an arena as talkback, to criticism, satire or knockbacks.
TRN rejected the complaint under Principle 7a. With reference to the other aspect of Mrs Faithfull’s complaint, TRN said it presumed that that was in reference to her fax being read on air. It noted that she had not asked for it not to be referred to on air, and asked why she would consider sending a fax if she did not want it to be referred to. The complaint under Principle 5 was not upheld.
The referral to the Authority was written by Mrs Faithfull on behalf of the Credo Society. She said that the Society wished the complaint to be considered under Principles 5 and 5b. In her view, she had not been dealt with justly and fairly, because the host had attacked her personally instead of dealing with the matters raised in her letter. She objected to the fact that the host had not put to listeners her proposal on how to improve standards.
Mrs Faithfull also contended that the host had edited her letter "almost out of existence". She summarised her complaint as relating to her view that her opinion had not been presented in an honest and truthful way. She said that the host had not accurately conveyed what she said, and had launched a personal attack on her, and thus neither she nor her letter had been dealt with fairly.
TRN commented further on the complaint, noting first that Mrs Faithfull had frequently been discouraged from phoning the station because of the repetitive nature of her arguments. Her fax, it said, was long-winded and required editing. It said that the host summarised it as best he could and gave a response. It denied that the host had made a personal attack on Mrs Faithfull. He had, TRN continued, merely underlined the fact that Mrs Faithfull was a long-time campaigner whose views had little support.
In her final comment, Mrs Faithfull denied that she had been discouraged from phoning the station. She cited examples of occasions where she had been welcomed to participate. As for the editing of her comments, Mrs Faithfull said that TRN’s response was disingenuous, because there had been no need even to discuss her fax. She said the evidence was clear that her faxed letter had not been dealt with justly and fairly and neither had she. She said she considered it quite ludicrous to suggest that there was little support for her views when she had been mainly in agreement with the host.
The Authority begins its determination of this complaint by noting that the comments arose in the talkback forum, which both listeners and participants would reasonably expect to involve a spirited exchange of views. Mrs Faithfull considers that her faxed contribution to the debate of the day was disparaged by the host and that he failed to deal with her fairly.
In the Authority’s view, it was not unreasonable for excerpts from the fax to be read out on air particularly when there was no request for it not to be made public. Similarly, it does not consider it irregular for Mrs Faithfull’s full name to be given, particularly as she is a known lobbyist who, by her own acknowledgment, regularly participates in community debate on talkback programmes. Furthermore, the Authority does not believe that the excerpts read unfairly represented the content of the fax or distorted her views.
In reaching its conclusion, the Authority emphasises that it has taken into account that the complainant, under the auspices of the Credo Society, volunteered to engage with the talkback host by faxed letter and, having done so, could not later dictate the manner in which her letter was used. It finds no breach of standards and declines to uphold the complaint.
For the reasons given, the Authority declines to uphold 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: