A woman caller was advised by a programme host on Radio Pacific to lie to the Accident Compensation Corporation in order to obtain a benefit she was not legally entitled to. The broadcast was at about 10.00pm on 25 September 1999.
V P McGlone complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster of Radio Pacific, about the broadcast. As he did not receive a response from the broadcaster within the statutory 20 working days, Mr McGlone referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
When it responded to the Authority, the broadcaster advised that it had no record of having received the complaint. It advised that it had now upheld the complaint as breaching the requirement to maintain standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order. It noted that the host was relatively inexperienced on Radio Pacific, and that he had admitted his mistake, and acknowledged that his advice to the caller had been foolhardy and wrong. It reported that the host had received a strong verbal warning from the station management and that he had apologised for the broadcast. In the broadcaster’s view, it had dealt satisfactorily with the incident.
For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken was insufficient and orders that a brief summary of this decision be broadcast.
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. On this occasion, the Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
During a broadcast on Radio Pacific at about 10.00pm on 25 September 1999, a woman caller was advised by the programme host to lie to the Accident Compensation Corporation in order to obtain a benefit to which she was not legally entitled. In giving his advice, the host recommended that she "find out what their criteria is and don’t hesitate to alter the facts to suit". Callers who rang to protest that he was advocating law breaking were not permitted to air their views, according to the complaint.
The complainant referred the matter to the Broadcasting Standards Authority when no response had been received from the station within the statutory time limit. He also complained – in general terms – about the host’s comments about Catholics in general, and Catholic girls in particular, when, on another occasion, the host had implied that they were promiscuous.
When the matter was referred to the broadcaster, it advised that it had no record of having received the original complaints. It dealt with the aspect of the complaint relating to advice about dealing with the ACC under s.4(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 and Principle 2 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, which set out the broadcaster’s obligation to maintain standards consistent with the maintenance of law and order. Those provisions read:
s.4(1) Every broadcaster is responsible for maintaining in its programmes and their presentation standards which are consistent with –
The maintenance of law and order;
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
In this instance, The RadioWorks advised, it had upheld the complaint.
It noted first that the host was relatively inexperienced with Radio Pacific, and that when the mistake had been pointed out to him he had admitted it, but offered in his defence that he had genuinely felt sorrow and compassion for the caller. According to the broadcaster, the host had accepted that the advice he had offered was "foolhardy and wrong". The broadcaster reported that it had treated the incident with the seriousness it deserved, and that the host had received a strong verbal warning from management. He had apologised and shown remorse over the incident, it added.
In summary, the broadcaster admitted to a breach of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice, but considered that the incident had been dealt with in a satisfactory manner.
In his final comment, Mr McGlone acknowledged that The RadioWorks had upheld the complaint, but said that he was not impressed with the excuses advanced on behalf of the host. In his view, any talkback host, whether experienced or not, should have a high regard for the truth. Surely, he argued, that was not a quality that a person acquired with experience.
The second part of his complaint, he noted, had not been dealt with by The RadioWorks. This referred to the host’s comments about Catholics in general and Catholic girls in particular, and was not mentioned in its response. Mr McGlone contended that the host’s comments were "quite scurrilous", and should have been dealt with.
In further correspondence, The RadioWorks acknowledged that the host had made the comments complained about. However it did not offer any explanation or further comment.
The complaint focuses on two matters, first that the action taken by The RadioWorks was insufficient when it upheld the complaint about the host’s advice to a caller to lie to ACC, and secondly that the complaint about a reference to Catholics and Catholic girls was not dealt by the broadcaster.
The Authority notes that when the broadcaster upheld the complaint about the host advising a caller to lie to the ACC, it reported that he had received a strong verbal warning from the station’s management, and that he had apologised and expressed remorse over the incident. Apparently, according to the station, he was relatively inexperienced as a Radio Pacific host, and had defended his action by saying that he had felt sorrow and compassion for the caller. In the Authority’s view, it was highly irresponsible for the host to suggest to a caller to deceive the ACC in order to obtain a benefit, and inexcusable even for an apparently inexperienced talkback host. While it notes the host tendered an apology to the complainant, the Authority considers that further action – beyond publication of this decision – is warranted in the circumstances. In a previous complaint which dealt with a comparable fact situation, (Decision No: 115/95 dated 9 November 1999), the Authority ordered the broadcaster to broadcast a statement. It considers that to be an appropriate course in these circumstances. Accordingly, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken in relation to this matter was also insufficient.
Next the Authority deals with the complaint about the host’s reference to Catholics and Catholic girls. The RadioWorks did not deal with this aspect until after the Authority interceded and sought a response. The broadcaster confirmed that the comments as reported by Mr McGlone were in fact made by the host but it was unable to recall the specific broadcast. It offered no further explanation nor did it refer to any attempt to censure the host. Under the Broadcasting Act, formal complaints must refer to a specific broadcast. On this occasion, notwithstanding the broadcaster’s acknowledgment, the Authority is left in doubt as to when the comments were broadcast and the context. Accordingly, the Authority declines to determine this aspect of the complaint.
For the reasons set forth above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken by The RadioWorks in relation to a broadcast on 25 September 1999 was insufficient.
Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order under s.13(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1989. For the reasons outlined above, it makes the following order:
Pursuant to s.13(1)of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The RadioWorks Ltd to broadcast a brief summary of this decision, approved by the Authority. The broadcast shall be made on a talkback programme during the host’s regular time slot, within one month of the date of this decision at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.
The Authority also directs that a record of the broadcast of the statement be made and provided to the Authority immediately following the broadcast.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
14 February 2000
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. V P McGlone’s Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd – 27 September 1999
2. Mr McGlone’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – received
28 October 1999
3. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Authority – 24 November 1999
4. Mr McGlone’s Final Comment – 9 December 1999
5. Mr McGlone’s Further Complaint to The RadioWorks – 7 January 2000
6. Mr McGlone’s Further Comment – 26 January 2000
7. The RadioWorks’ Further Comment – 26 January 2000
8. The RadioWorks’ Further Comment – 28 January 2000
9. Mr McGlone’s Further Comment – 28 January 2000