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Stringer and CanWest RadioWorks Ltd - 2006-088

Members

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

Complainant

  • Susan Stringer of Auckland

Dated

19th October 2006

Number

2006-088

Channel/Station

Radio Live

Broadcaster

CanWest RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Live talkback – complainant strongly criticised the host’s approach in an interview with Georgina te Heuheu MP – after some two minutes of uninterrupted comment, the host cut off caller and, while declining to identify her, said that she had her own agendas and that she shouldn’t ring because it wasn’t appropriate for her to call talkback – broadcaster’s approach allegedly unbalanced, unfair and inaccurate

Findings
Principle 4 (balance) – complainant’s criticism of host and host’s criticism of complainant were not controversial issues of public importance - standard does not apply – not upheld

Principle 5 (fairness) – host’s critical response to experienced caller’s criticisms in robust talkback environment not unfair – not upheld

Principle 6 (accuracy) – standard does not apply as exchange was neither news nor current affairs – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1] The talkback programme on Radio Live on Sunday 7 May 2006, hosted by Willie Jackson, discussed the issue of the Māori seats in Parliament.  The complainant called in and was identified as “Susan”.  She strongly criticised what she regarded as the host’s undemanding attitude in an interview he had earlier conducted with Georgina te Heuheu MP, and asked why he had not asked the MP “the hard questions”.

[2] After some two minutes of uninterrupted comment the host terminated the call, and made the following comments:

  • Someone should look at your background – but I won’t go into that because I can’t even tell you who that person is talking about private lives, have a look at yourself before you ring up here.
  • Got her own agendas that woman and wants to start talking like that on air, I can’t be bothered talking to her because it’s just ridiculous.
  • She shouldn’t ring up actually, it’s not even appropriate but I won’t go into who that is.

Complaint

[3] Susan Stringer, the caller, complained to CanWest RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the host had attacked her personally “in the most cowardly manner”.  As her call had been terminated, she added, she was unable to respond.  She had immediately telephoned the station but was not put through to the producer.  There had been no retraction of, or apology made for, the comments on air, she said.

[4] Ms Stringer contended that the broadcast breached the standards relating to fairness, balance and accuracy.

Principles

[5] CanWest assessed the complaint under the standards in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice nominated by the complainant.  They provide:

Principle 4

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the principle that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed, reasonable efforts are made, or reasonable opportunities are given, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

Principle 5

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

Principle 6

In the preparation and presentation of news and current affairs programmes, broadcasters are required to be truthful and accurate on points of fact.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6] CanWest said that Principle 4 only applied to controversial issues of public importance and, accordingly, was not applicable to the complaint.  Principle 6, it continued, was confined to news and current affairs programmes and was also inapplicable.  It regarded the host’s comments about the complainant as the essence of the complaint and focused on the requirement for fairness in Principle 5.

[7] CanWest noted that it was apparent that the complainant and the host knew each other and that the complainant had been allowed to make her statement uninterrupted for some two minutes.  After the call, CanWest acknowledged, the host had made a number of comments but it considered that the caller had not been identified beyond close friends and immediate family.  The majority of listeners, it added, would have had no idea of “Susan’s” identity.

[8] Declining to uphold the complaint, CanWest wrote:

Because you have not been identified in the programme the requirements of Principle 5 have little application – in any event the Committee does not consider that the host was unfair to you.  You had made it clear that there was a history between you, you had had your say – uninterrupted at considerable length, the host made some very constrained and careful comments that confirmed what you had intimated – that there was an unsatisfactory personal relationship or history between you a full airing of which was not appropriate on air material.

Referral to the Authority

[9] Dissatisfied with CanWest’s decision, Mrs Stringer referred her complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[10] In a letter to written to CanWest in response to its decision, Mrs Stringer said that she had no relationship with the host other than speaking to him on four occasions while he was hosting talkback.  She had kept a recording of these calls which disclosed that:

… while I have been direct and firm, I am also respectful and consistent.

[11] She said that apart from the first encounter, the host now gave her “the silent treatment”.  The uninterrupted two minutes she had been given, she stated, was not based on courtesy but because the host was “sulking” and “scared” to debate Māori issues with her.

[12] Mrs Stringer said she had debated Māori issues with a supposedly “red-necked” talkback host who had treated her with respect and, unlike the host of Radio Live, could handle “the cut and thrust of mainstream talkback radio”.

Authority's Determination

[13] The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.  The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

Principle 4 (balance) and Principle 5 (accuracy)

[14] Principle 4 (balance) applies to broadcasts which deal with controversial issues of public importance.  While the Māori seats in Parliament were the topic for discussion on Radio Live on 6 May, the complainant’s contribution amounted to strong criticism of the host and, in particular, his approach to Opposition MP Georgina te Heuheu in the interview he had conducted with her.  The host’s response was critical of Mrs Stringer and questioned her credibility as a caller to talkback.  As this exchange did not deal with matters which are controversial issues of public importance, the balance requirement does not apply and the Authority declines to uphold the balance complaint.

[15] The Authority has previously determined that talkback radio is subject to the requirement for accuracy only when the host makes unqualified statements of material fact (see Decision No. 2006-030).  That did not occur on this occasion, as the exchange only involved the caller’s criticism of the host and the host’s criticisms in response.  Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Principle 5 (fairness)

[16] The Authority does not accept CanWest’s submission that the fairness standard did not apply as the complainant had not been identified beyond close friends and immediate family.  In previous decisions, the Authority has determined fairness complaints when it has been alleged that an unidentified caller has been abused by a host.

[17] CanWest also argued that Mrs Stringer had not been dealt with unfairly.  In this, the Authority agrees.  From the outset, Mrs Stringer was critical of the host.  Her comments did not elicit a response, and she was allowed to continue uninterrupted for two minutes.  At that stage the host terminated the call and then made veiled comments critical of the complainant.  He also said that it was “just ridiculous” to discuss issues with her in view of “her own agendas”.

[18] While the host’s comments about the caller did not address the issues she had attempted to raise, in light of the robust nature of talkback radio the Authority does not accept that the complainant was unfairly treated.  It notes that the complainant began in a challenging way (telling the host he should “fess up” about the being the “president of Georgina te Heuheu’s fan club”) and thus the host’s critical – but not abusive – response was not unreasonable.  Accordingly, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
19 October 2006

Appendix

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

  1. Susan Stringer’s complaint to CanWest RadioWorks Ltd – 18 May 2006
  2. CanWest’s response to the complainant – 26 July 2006
  3. Mrs Stringer’s response to CanWest – 18 August 2006
  4. Mrs Stringer’s referral to the Authority – 24 August 2006
  5. CanWest’s response to the Authority – 12 September 2006