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McLean and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2002-060

Members

  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • R Bryant
  • B Hayward
  • J H McGregor

Complainant

  • Ruth McLean of Napier

Dated

23rd May 2002

Number

2002-060

Programme

"The Help Desk"

Channel/Station

The Edge

Broadcaster

The RadioWorks Ltd


Complaint
The Edge – "The Help Desk" – afternoon broadcast – beginning at secondary school – stories about initiation rites – encouraged bullying

Findings
Principle 7 – conflicting views of the attitude displayed by announcer – no tape – unsatisfactory – no option but to decline to determine

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] "The Help Desk", broadcast on The Edge on the afternoon of the week beginning 28 January 2002, invited callers to phone in and relate stories about starting at secondary school.

[2] Ruth McLean complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the stories involved initiation practices, bullying, intimidation, and violence towards third formers. The announcer, she added, seemed to find the stories entertaining. Moreover, his attitude had encouraged bullying and his lack of social responsibility breached broadcasting standards.

[3] In response, The RadioWorks denied that such initiation practices had been condoned and it declined to uphold the complaint.

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

For the reasons below, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. They have not listened to a tape of the programme. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] "The Help Desk" was broadcast by The Edge during the afternoons of the week beginning 28 January 2002. During the programme, listeners were able to phone in and relate stories about starting at secondary school. Some of the stories dealt with the initiation practices that take place in some schools.

The Complaint

[7] Ruth McLean complained to The RadioWorks that the stories involved bullying, intimidation, and violence which the announcer (Stables) seemed to find "hilarious and entertaining". The announcer’s attitude, she wrote, encouraged bullying which, she added, contravened the broadcasting standard requiring social responsibility.

The Standard

[8] The RadioWorks assessed the complaint against the standard nominated by the complainant. Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice reads:

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[9] The RadioWorks advised that it was unable to locate the comments on the day alleged. However, it acknowledged that stories about initiation rites had been broadcast on The Edge during the week beginning on 28 January. It added that it accepted the complainant’s account of the broadcast.

[10] The broadcaster accepted that the announcer might have laughed at some of the stories. However, it added, the announcer had been a victim of bullying himself and "at no time did he condone the practice".

[11] The intention of the broadcast, The RadioWorks noted, was to alert young people to the practice and to provide a forum for discussion. It declined to uphold the complaint.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[12] Ms McLean thought that the absence of a tape might contravene Principle 8 of the Radio Code.

[13] In her comments on the substance of the complaint, she disputed The RadioWorks’ professed motivation. At no time, she wrote, did the announcer condemn bullying. Rather, he had invited people to comment on initiation practices and:

his attitude was as if he found these tales titillating, humorous, and highly entertaining.

[14] In view of the apparent attitude displayed, she considered that a serious breach of broadcasting standards had taken place.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[15] The RadioWorks agreed that listeners to The Edge had been invited to phone in and relate incidents of bullying at school during the week beginning on 28 January. However, the comments complained about were not on the 28th, as the complainant had argued. As the date of the broadcast had been incorrect, the broadcaster was unable to provide a tape of the actual broadcast.

[16] The RadioWorks agreed that the announcer might have laughed but it stated adamantly that the intention was to bring the practice out into the open, and in no way was bullying condoned.

The Authority’s Determination

[17] The complainant and the broadcaster agree that initiation practices at secondary schools, involving bullying, intimidation and violence, were discussed on "The Help desk" broadcast on The Edge during one afternoon of the week beginning 28 January 2002.

[18] However, the complainant and the broadcaster disagree about the tone of the discussion. The complainant said that the announcer seemed to find the stories funny, and that his attitude encouraged bullying. The broadcaster stated that the announcer did not condone the practice, and that his intention was to bring the topic out into the open and to provide a forum for it to be discussed.

[19] Given the differences in opinion about the tone of the broadcast, the Authority concludes that, without the tape, it has no option but to decline to determine the complaint.

[20] The RadioWorks was unable to provide a tape of the broadcast complained about. The complainant appeared to be mistaken about the day the broadcast occurred. Nevertheless, The RadioWorks accepts that the broadcast occurred in the week nominated by the complainant. In this situation, the Authority is of the view that if The RadioWorks operated a system whereby it retained tapes of open-line programmes, those when listeners are invited to phone in, then it should be reasonably easy to locate a tape of the broadcast. Accordingly, the Authority expresses disappointment that The RadioWorks has not been able to locate a tape.

[21] The broadcaster’s failure to provide the Authority with a tape of the item complained about on this occasion is not an isolated incident. The Authority has recorded its concern in earlier decisions when it has been compromised by the lack of a tape The Authority has been in discussion with the Radio Broadcasters Association (RBA) about the issue of tape retention, and it has indicated to the RBA that the continuing failure by broadcasters to provide tapes may lead the Authority to promulgate Rules under s.30 of the Broadcasting Act relating to the retention of tapes. Such a step would not be taken without further consultation with all radio broadcasters.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to determine the complaint in all the circumstances under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
23 May 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Ruth McLean’s Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd – 30 January 2002
  2. The RadioWorks’ Response to Ms McLean – 25 February 2002
  3. Ms McLean’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 5 March 2002
  4. The RadioWorks ’s Response to the Authority – 27 March 2002