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White and RadioWorks Ltd - 2009-008

Members

  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Paul France
  • Tapu Misa
  • Diane Musgrave

Complainant

  • Barbara White of Lower Hutt

Dated

26th March 2009

Number

2009-008

Programme

The Breeze

Channel/Station

The Breeze

Broadcaster

RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Breeze – host revealed the fact that he and his wife had separated during the Christmas holiday break – statement included wife’s first name – allegedly in breach of privacy  

Findings
Standard 3 (privacy) – no private facts disclosed – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]  During an item on The Breeze, broadcast between 6am and 6.30am on Monday 19 January 2009, the host revealed to listeners that he and his wife had separated during the Christmas holiday break. The host disclosed his wife’s first name.

Referral to the Authority

[2]   Barbara White lodged a privacy complaint about the broadcast with the Authority under section 8(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[3]   The complainant stated that, while she did not hear the broadcast, the host’s comments were something to the effect of:

Hope everyone’s had a good Christmas. Mine tinged with a bit of sadness, as my wife and I went our separate ways, nothing personal to [wife’s name].

[4]   Ms White argued that the host had breached his wife’s privacy by disclosing their separation and by revealing her name to listeners.

Standards

[5]   Standard 3 and guideline 3a of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice and privacy principle 1 of the Authority’s Privacy Principles are relevant to the determination of this complaint. These provide:

Standard 3

Broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual

Guideline 3a

When determining privacy complaints broadcasters shall apply the privacy principles developed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Privacy Principle 1

It is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of private facts, where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[6]   RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, stated that, due to an “air-check machine malfunction” on the morning in question, it was unable to listen to the broadcast or provide it to the Authority.

[7]   The broadcaster stated that the show’s producer had told it that the host’s comments regarding the separation with his wife were “said without any malice or offence intended”. It pointed out that announcers were encouraged to talk about their personal lives and that the host in question had talked about his wife before without any protest.

[8]   RadioWorks said that as soon as it was brought to the host’s attention that a protest had been made about his comment, he said he was happy not to make any further mention of the matter and had not done so.

[9]   Turning to Standard 3, the broadcaster did not consider that the reference to the parties’ separation was a breach of broadcasting standards. It contended that the host’s comment did not identify the announcer’s wife to the wider community beyond friends and family, and that identification beyond that group was required for there to be any breach.

[10]   Further, RadioWorks argued that, even if it could be said that the wife was identifiable to a wider group, the disclosure by one party of a separation could not be said to be a breach of the other party’s privacy. It contended that, even if separation was a private fact, there was nothing offensive per se about one person disclosing their separation from another. It maintained that nothing in the manner in which the separation was referred to by the host could be considered offensive on an objective level.

[11]   The broadcaster did not consider “that this issue is appropriately a matter of broadcasting standards, but rather a matter for the two parties involved”.

[12]   As a matter of principle, RadioWorks said that it would not seek to stop radio hosts talking freely about their lives in a straightforward manner, as to do so would be a considerable restraint on a radio host’s ability to connect with his or her audience and would be an undue restriction on his or her freedom of speech.

[13]   In conclusion, the broadcaster considered the complaint should not be upheld.          

Authority's Determination

[14]   The members of the Authority have not been able to listen to a recording of the broadcast, but will proceed on the basis that the broadcaster has accepted that the comments complained about were made. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Standard 3 (privacy)

[15]   Privacy principle 1 states that it is inconsistent with an individual’s privacy to allow the public disclosure of private facts, where the disclosure is highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[16]   When the Authority determines an alleged breach of privacy, it must first decide whether the person whose privacy was allegedly infringed was identifiable in the item. The Authority notes that the host revealed his wife’s first name during the statement and that many in the audience would have known the host’s full name. As a result, it concludes that the host’s wife was identifiable in the item.

[17]   Second, the Authority must decide whether any private facts were disclosed about the individual who was identified. In the Authority’s view, the host’s wife did not have a reasonable expectation that the fact of their separation would remain private. The host was entitled to discuss his own domestic arrangements and to publicise this element of his personal life, so long as he did not divulge details about the separation which might have infringed his wife's privacy. The host did not go beyond merely mentioning the fact of his separation, which the Authority considers was a personal rather than private fact as envisaged by the standard.

[18]   Further, even if their separation could be considered a private fact, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the manner in which it was disclosed – briefly, and without malice or rancour – would not have been highly offensive to an objective reasonable person.

[19]   Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that the host’s statement breached Standard 3.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
26 March 2009

Appendix

The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:

1.         Barbara White’s direct referral to the Authority – 20 January 2009
2.         RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 12 February 2009