Skip to main content

Evans and The Radio Network Ltd - 2001-132

Members

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

Complainant

  • Brian John Evans of Auckland

Standards Breached

Dated

8th November 2001

Number

2001-132

Channel/Station

Newstalk ZB

Broadcaster

The Radio Network Ltd


Complaint
Newstalk ZB – talkback – topic – global warming – complainant tried to contribute – described as idiot – named as Brian – call terminated

Findings
Principle 3 – identity not revealed – no uphold

Principle 4 – insufficient information – decline to determine

Principle 5 – opportunity to terminate call without rudeness not taken – broadcaster irresponsible and abusive – uphold – no Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Global warning was a topic discussed on talkback on Newstalk ZB, hosted by Leighton Smith, on the morning of 16 July 2001. At about 11.12am, the complainant telephoned, gave his name as "Jim", and challenged the views advanced by a professor who had been interviewed, and who had disputed the global warming theory.

[2] Brian Evans complained to The Radio Network Ltd (TRN), the broadcaster, that when put on air, the host interrupted him with the word "hello" on several occasions as if he could not hear him. The host had then described the caller as a "nutter" and terminated the call. About 30 minutes later, in response to a fax which had been received, the host gave some reasons for terminating the earlier call, describing the caller, whom he now called "Brian", as a pest. Mr Evans complained that his privacy had been invaded, that the item was unbalanced, and that he had not been dealt with fairly.

[3] In response, TRN said that Mr Evans was banned from Newstalk ZB because of previous behaviour on air. It declined to uphold the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRN’s response, Mr Evans referred his complaint his complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds one aspect of the complaint, declines to uphold another aspect, and declines to determine the final aspect of the complaint.

Decision

[5] 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 the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] Global warning was a topic discussed on talkback on Newstalk ZB hosted by Leighton Smith on the morning of 16 July 2001. At about 11.12am, the complainant telephoned and challenged the views advanced by a professor who had been interviewed, and who had disputed the global warming theory.

The Complaint

[7] As the complainant called "Jim" was putting his views, the host interrupted with the words "hello, hello, hello" on several occasions as if he could not hear the caller. He then told the caller that "he was an idiot" and terminated the call, describing the caller as "Brian the nutter". At about 11.40am the host read a fax from a person who objected to the host’s treatment of "Brian". In response, the host said that "Brian" was banned from the station because, among things, he was a "pest" who had used offensive language on air. The host concluded by describing his treatment of "Brian" on this occasion as "gentle".

[8] The complainant said that his privacy had been invaded as he had been named as "Brian", his correct name, although he had telephoned as "Jim" for the purposes of getting on the show. He objected to what he described as censorship and to being insulted. He noted that, later, he had been telephoned at home by the broadcaster and warned that the Police would be called if he persisted in calling Newstalk ZB. He continued:

So what about my complaint of censorship and insult from your host Leighton Smith? Over the years your station and much of the media has cheer lead the avalanche of violent films and attendant swearing from America, so don’t tell me you folk want to save the listeners from the "f" word, from an irate kiwi, like me, really worried for my children’s future……

The Standards

[9] The Radio Network Ltd, the broadcaster, informed the complainant that it had considered the complaint under Principles 3, 4 and 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. The Principles and accompanying relevant guidelines provide:

Principle 3

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.

Guidelines

3a  Broadcasters shall apply the privacy principles developed by the Broadcasting Standards Authority and applied when determining privacy complaints.

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.

Guidelines

4a  Broadcasters will respect the rights of individuals to express their own opinions.

4b  Broadcasters may have regard, when ensuring that programmes comply with Principle 4, to the following matters:

(i) An appropriate introduction to the programme; and

(ii) Any reasonable on-air opportunity for listeners to ask questions or present rebuttal within the period of current interest. Broadcasters may have regard to the views expressed by other broadcasters or in the media which listeners could reasonably be expected to be aware of.

Principle 5

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

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Complainant

[10] TRN advised the complainant that he had been banned from Newstalk ZB because:

… over a period of time you have abused, on many occasions, the right to talk on air.

You frequently disguise your voice to the producer, always use a non-de-plume and within minutes of getting on air (if you haven’t already been cut off) refuse to give your real name and start raving about subjects which have no relevance to the topic being discussed.

You have also used bad language on air.

In addition, one evening earlier this year, you redialled our talkback number over 60 times, disrupted the right of other people to talk on air. This information was obtained for us by your telecommunications provider and on the basis of that I contacted the police.

These incidents are only a fraction of the nuisance you have caused this station over the years.

[11] In declining to uphold the complaint under Principles 3, 4 and 5, TRN reiterated to the complainant that he was banned from Newstalk ZB.

The Referral to the Authority

[12] As he was dissatisfied with TRN’s response to his complaint, Mr Evans referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

The Authority’s Determination

[13] Fairness is the main standard raised by Mr Evans in his complaint. He also referred to privacy and balance and, accordingly, TRN also assessed the complaint under Principles 3 and 4. Nevertheless, as fairness was the central issue, TRN’s response focused on Principle 5.

[14] Principle 3 deals with privacy and does not come into operation unless the identity of the complainant is broadcast. On this occasion, the host used the caller’s correct first name. However, he did not broadcast the caller’s surname. While other listeners might have been aware of "Brian" as a regular participant on Newstalk ZB, there was no other information released to enable other listeners to identify "Brian" as a neighbour or a friend. Accordingly, as the Authority considers on the facts of this complaint it was not possible to identify Brian from the information given during the broadcast, it declines to uphold a breach of Principle 3.

[15] The complainant raised Principle 4 when he referred to balance. While the Authority is aware that opposing views on global warning were put by the guest professor and by the complainant, it has insufficient information to reach a determination on the balance of the broadcast overall. Accordingly, under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, it declines to determine this aspect of the complaint.

[16] Turning to the complainant’s principal complaint, alleged unfairness, the Authority notes two matters. First, radio talkback is a robust environment and Mr Evans is not unfamiliar with this. Second, Mr Evans used a pseudonym to get on air. In its response, TRN focused almost entirely on its dissatisfaction over some time with Mr Evans as a participant on Newstalk ZB.

[17] The Authority accepts that talkback programmes will screen callers to ensure that some callers, for a wide variety of reasons, do not speak on air. Provided that such screening does not breach the standards relating to balance and fairness, the Authority accepts the use of these procedures.

[18] On this occasion, Mr Evans was successful in his aim to speak on air. It seems that the host recognised him almost immediately. Talkback hosts have a range of techniques to terminate calls with minimal apparent rudeness. Had that occurred, the Authority would not have considered fairness to be relevant.

[19] However, rather than terminating the call, the host allowed Mr Evans to express his views, albeit briefly, and indeed to provide some balance to those who disputed the theory of global warming. After suggesting that he was unable to hear the caller, the host terminated the call and referred to Mr Evans abusively. The Authority considers this approach lacked professionalism.

[20] While bearing in mind that talkback radio is a robust environment, and acknowledging that Mr Evans used a pseudonym to get on air, the Authority nevertheless considers that the host’s response was unfair.

[21] Broadcasters have considerable power and the Authority expects such power to be exercised responsibly. The Authority finds the degree of abuse on this occasion was unfair and, accordingly, upholds the complaint that the broadcast breached the fairness requirement.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of talkback on Newstalk ZB on 16 July 2001 by The Radio Network Ltd breached Principle 5 of the Radio Codes of Broadcasting Practice.

Under s.11(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority declines to determine the aspect of the complaint which alleged a breach of Principle 4. It declines to uphold the aspect of the complaint which argued this Principle 3 was contravened.

[22] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. Given that the complainant used a pseudonym to get on air, together with his previous behaviour involving the station, the Authority considers that no order is warranted on this occasion.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
8 November 2001

Appendix

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

  1. Brian John Evan’s Complaint to The Radio Network Ltd – undated
  2. TRN’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 July 2001
  3. TRN’s Response to the Authority – 16 August 2001