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Claridge and Blue Skies FM Ltd - 2003-054

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • Tapu Misa
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Lynley J Claridge of Alexandra

Standards Breached

Dated

19th June 2003

Number

2003-054

Programme

Blue Skies News

Channel/Station

Blue Skies FM

Broadcaster

Blue Skies FM Ltd


Complaint
News item about community parties on New Year’s Eve complainant named and said to be "spouting lies" and "hadn’t checked the facts" – unbalanced – unfair – inaccurate

Findings
Principle 4 and Principle 6 – subsumed under Principle 5

Principle 5 – any response, including decline to comment, not reported – unfair – uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] The possibility of three venues for New Year’s Eve party-goers in Central Otago was dealt with in a news item broadcast at 6.30am, 7.30am, 8.30am and midday on 21 March 2003 on Blues Skies FM in Alexandra. The Chairman of one group which had staged a successful street party for five years, expressed his anger at one of the other groups. Naming the other group’s chair, he said that she had not checked the facts and was "spouting" lies.

[2] Lynley Claridge, the named chair of one of the groups planning to organise a party on New Year’s Eve, complained to Blue Skies FM Ltd, the broadcaster, that the comments were defamatory and incorrect, and that she had not been given an opportunity to reply to them.

[3] In response, Blue Skies said that the complainant had declined the opportunity to discuss the issue of the three possible parties, and maintained that it had reported the comments accurately. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s decision, Mrs Claridge referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the fairness aspect of the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have read a transcript of the programme complained about and have read the correspondence which is listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] A news item about three street parties planned for Central Otago on New Year’s Eve was broadcast on Blue Skies news at 6.30am, 7.30am, 8.30am and midday on 21 March 2003. The parties were being planned, it was said, by the Alexandra Districts Promotion Group, the Clyde/Manuherekia Promotions Group, and the Stadium Tavern.

[7] The item also reported the comments from the Chairman of the Clyde/Manuherekia Promotions Group, Grant Sanders, about the Alexandra Districts Promotion Group, and its chair Lynley Claridge. The item reported that Mr Sanders:

… is furious the Alexandra Group is copying the event. He said it’s typical of the larger town killing everything in the rural areas and taking it to the larger centres.

Mr Sanders said Mrs Claridge hasn’t checked out the facts and has been spouting straight out lies about the Clyde party, it isn’t R18, it’s run as a family event and last year there were 3 bands and a disco, not just jazz music and they have addressed the problem of not enough buses to transport people for next year.

He said the Clyde Promotions Group has never been approached by Mrs Claridge to negotiate how the two events could complement each other. Maybe it’s time, Mr Sanders said, to rethink the best time for the Goldrush parade in Clyde, perhaps a weekend late in September would attract more people to the event.

The Informal Complaint

[8] Mrs Lynley Claridge complained by email at 9.28am on the day the item was broadcast (21 March) to Blue Skies about those comments. Noting that she intended to seek a legal remedy about the remark about "spouting lies", she said she had spoken to Mr Sanders on 28 February to discuss whether the Alexandra Districts Promotion Group (ADP) could help in Clyde, and was told that assistance was not required. She outlined the work being carried out by the ADP and the efforts it was making to work alongside the Community Board.

[9] It was apparent from the correspondence that, at about that time, Mrs Claridge telephoned the station and asked that the item be not broadcast again.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Informal Complaint

[10] The Managing Director of Blue Skies FM (Mike Bain) advised Mrs Claridge by email at 1.25pm on the day the story was being broadcast that, after reviewing the item, it would, as part of normal policy, be updated before it was broadcast again. He wrote:

I wish to make it quite clear that we are doing so simply as the story has run its course. As for demanding that we "pull" the story, as a news organisation we would need a good reason for that request – that it upsets your mum is not a valid request.

[11] The station invited Mrs Claridge to respond publicly, noting that it had invited Mrs Claridge, unsuccessfully, to appear on the programme Central Today and to explain the role and future of the ADP.

The Formal Complaint

[12] By email at 4.40pm on 21 March to Blue Skies, Mrs Claridge pointed out that she had never discussed the events with Mr Grant Sanders. Rather, she said, she had telephoned him to offer the ADP’s assistance.

[13] Mrs Claridge described the remark that she had lied as both incorrect and defamatory. Further, she added, she had not been given an opportunity to respond, commenting:

This example of your professionalism is exactly why I will not appear on your radio station.

[14] Mrs Claridge said she would accept a correction by way of a broadcast apology, which was confirmed by the station’s managing director.

The Standards

[15] Neither the broadcaster nor the complainant nominated a specific broadcasting standard which the broadcast was alleged to have breached.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Formal Complaint

[16] Blue Skies advised the complainant that it had previously reported that Clyde’s party was a family event. However, in a news item broadcast on 20 March, the complainant had been quoted as saying that Clyde’s party was restricted to those aged 18 or over, while Alexandra’s would cater for both juniors and seniors.

[17] Blue Skies also said that it had spoken to Mr Sanders about the telephone call on 28 February, but he was unable to recall the details of what was discussed. Blue Skies explained its practice:

As you can appreciate, as a news media, we accept people’s comments at face value, whether it be the Clyde Promotion Group or the Alexandra Promotion Group. We believe, in this case, that Grant Sanders was in an emotive state, however he was happy to be quoted that you were, in his words, "spouting lies". Whilst we accept this to be strong language, had we modified his comments, we would then be in breach of misquoting Mr Sanders.

[18] Blue Skies maintained that Mrs Claridge had been invited, but declined, to appear on the morning of 21 March. The email response had referred to defamation, and Blues Skies commented that Mrs Claridge had declined a number of further invitations to appear.

[19] Dealing with Mrs Claridge’s request to broadcast an apology, Blue Skies wrote:

Regarding your request for a public apology, it is not our intention to do so in light of the research that we have carried out. I believe the situation has become emotive between both parties, that is yourself and Mr Sanders, and the facts have now become the casualty as both parties concerned have lost credibility by fighting via the media.

In conclusion, should you wish to take legal action, it is your right to do so. However, you say he (Mr Sanders) has slandered you with his comments. We ask the question – why haven’t you had any one on one discussions with Mr Sanders directly? We only reported the story as it was given to us, in good faith.

[20] In summary, Blue Skies said that, as a community based radio station, it was willing to promote events. It had never questioned the feasibility of the ADP’s street party, it noted, and in fact had offered its services in an earlier email.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[21] Mrs Claridge recalled that she had been invited to appear on the Blue Skies programme Central Today on 20 March to discuss "a controversial" event which was to be held in Alexandra on New Year’s Eve. She sought and obtained a list of questions and, upon reviewing them, declined to appear.

[22] In the news item broadcast on Blue Skies on 21 March, the chairperson of Clyde Promotions said that she had "incorrect facts" and was "spouting lies". The item, she said, was broadcast in the news each hour and, she maintained, she had not been given a chance to defend herself.

[23] Mrs Claridge said that she was a Councillor on the Central Otago District Council and a member of a number of other organisations. In light of the station manager’s comment that the chairs of both groups had destroyed their credibility by fighting in the media, she wrote:

I went to great lengths to avoid any problems as evidenced by my refusal to appear on his programme when I received his list of controversial questions. And by the reporting of all other media which was balanced and gave me the opportunity to respond, which I did by advising both events would complement each other and that Alexandra would ensure that it did all possible to ensure the integrity of both events were protected.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[24] Blue Skies was unable to provide a tape of the broadcast, stating the 31 day system it operated for air checks had expired. Nonetheless, it enclosed a transcript of the item.

[25] Blue Skies stated that it had an open invitation to Mrs Claridge throughout the time of the correspondence to comment, but she had declined each invitation. She had done so, the broadcaster continued, throughout the year since she became Chair of the ADP.

[26] The specific comment complained about, the station manager wrote, was a quote from the Chair of the Clyde Promotions Group, and he had been prepared to be quoted. Further, the station manager added, the times of the news broadcast were 6.30am, 7.30am, 8.30am and midday, not every hour.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[27] Mrs Claridge began:

I believe that Blue Skies has been misleading, evasive and selective with truth from day one and again in this instance. In terms of fairness and balance this radio station has badly let down its listeners with the broadcast under complaint. I am aghast that any media can broadcast an inaccurate and unbalanced story while using the defence that a member of the public supported the move. Is this a normal practice that allows such standards?

[28] She reiterated that she had declined the interview of 20 March as most of the questions were unrelated to its overt purpose, expressing her belief that the news item broadcast on 21 March was "spiteful". She also repeated that she had not been told of the contents of the interview before it was broadcast and was thus denied an opportunity to reply. She asked if it was satisfactory to broadcast a news item "simply because it was a quote".

[29] Mrs Claridge said that she would rather be remembered as an "honest competitor" than a "liar".

The Authority’s Determination

[30] Neither the broadcaster nor the complainant have nominated a broadcasting standard under which to assess the complaint about the broadcast of a news item on Blue Skies FM at 6.30am, 7.30am, 8.30am and midday on 21 March 2003. The complainant has suggested that action for defamation is a possibility. Defamation is not a broadcasting standards issue, and, therefore, it is not within the Authority’s jurisdiction to determine matters concerning alleged defamation.

[31] While the complainant questions the accuracy of the comment, and suggests that the item was unbalanced, the Authority considers that the focus of Mrs Claridge’s complaint was the point that she had not been treated fairly. Moreover, the Authority is not in a position to rule on such details as, for example, the number of bands at last year’s New Year’s Eve party in Clyde, or the age limit imposed.

[32] Accordingly, the Authority has assessed the complaint under Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

Principle 5

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

[33] With regard to the broadcasting standard requirement for fairness, the Authority points out that it requires more than being given the opportunity to take part in a broadcast. It also acknowledges that no one is required to respond or to participate in a broadcast or, indeed, to answer the media’s questions. Declining to participate, however, does not absolve the broadcaster from the obligation to use its best endeavours to refer to or deal with the person fairly.

[34] The news item complained about reported the comments from the Chair of the Clyde/Manuherekia Promotions Group in which he spoke about the complainant, described as the Chairperson of the Alexandra Districts Promotion Group, and said among other matters that she had "been spouting straight out lies about the Clyde party".

[35] The news item did not include Mrs Claridge’s response, nor did it report whether she had been made aware of the comments and whether she had been invited to respond and, if so, had declined to comment. Accordingly, the Authority concludes the broadcast did not refer to or deal with Mrs Claridge justly and fairly and, consequently, was in breach of Principle 5 of the Radio Code.

[36] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision No. 2002-071/072, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, including the failure to report Mrs Claridge’s response, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that a news item broadcast by Blue Skies FM Ltd at 6.30am, 7.30am, 8.30am and midday on 21 March 2003 breached Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[37] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss. 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[38] Taking into account the fact the broadcast complained about focused on a news item about a matter of local concern, and the dispute to which it referred is unlikely to be resolved solely through any order that it may impose upon determining this complaint, the Authority considers that the imposition of an order on this occasion is not appropriate.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
19 June 2003

Appendix

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

  1. Assorted faxes between Lynley Claridge and Blue Skies FM Ltd in regard to possible
    interview with Mrs Claridge – 20 March 2003.
  2. Lynley Claridge’s Complaint to Blue Skies FM – 21 March 2003
  3. Various emails between Mrs Claridge and Blue Skies – 21–26 March 2003
  4. Blue Skies’ Response to Mrs Claridge – undated
  5. Mrs Claridge’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 28 April 2003
  6. Blue Skies’ Response to the Authority – 1 May 2003
  7. Mrs Claridge’s Final Comment – 6 May 2003