The Edge – ring-in competition – how to deal with unwanted singing hamster – some callers’ suggestions violent and cruel – offensive – illegal – inappropriate for children
Principle 1 – insufficient information about context – decline to determine
Principle 2 and Principle 7, guideline b – no tape – decline to determine
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 Listeners to The Edge were invited to phone in and suggest ways of dealing with an unwanted singing hamster. The suggestions broadcast between 7.50–8.10am on 21 December 2001 involved various degrees of violence and cruelty.
 Mr Butcher complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the methods were offensive, illegal and inappropriate for broadcast during children’s normal listening times.
 When the broadcaster failed to respond to his formal complaint, Mr Butcher referred it to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 In its response to the Authority, The RadioWorks maintained that the humorous item concerned getting rid of a toy singing hamster permanently and did not breach the standards.
For the reasons below, the Authority declines to determine the complaint.
 The members of the Authority have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. A tape of the programme complained about is not available. The Authority deals with the complaint without a formal hearing.
 Between 7.50–8.10am on 21 December 2001, The Edge ran a competition on how to deal with an unwanted singing hamster. Listeners were invited to ring in and some of the suggestions involved violence and cruelty.
 Mr Butcher complained to The Edge that, given the time of the broadcast and the closeness to Christmas, the programme breached Principles 1, 2 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.
 Although The Edge acknowledged Mr Butcher’s complaint, it did not deal with it formally. Accordingly, Mr Butcher referred his complaint to the Authority.
 After the complaint had been referred to it by the Authority, The RadioWorks, broadcaster of The Edge, assessed the complaint under the standards nominated by Mr Butcher. They read:
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the maintenance of law and order.
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.
7b Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.
 The RadioWorks explained to the Authority that the broadcast was a humorous item where listeners were invited to suggest how to get rid permanently of a singing hamster which had been participating in the breakfast programme. The hamster, it added, was a toy and nothing happened to it. "The whole programme was a joke", The RadioWorks wrote, and it declined to uphold the complaint.
 The RadioWorks added:
We are guilty of not responding to Mr Butcher in a formal manner, and of attempting to make listeners laugh.
 Mr Butcher expressed concern that the Authority was unable to listen to a tape of the broadcast, which he had found offensive, before determining the complaint.
 The implications in the item, he wrote, were the same whether or not the hamster was a toy. Because of the explicitness in the item of the instructions about making a bomb, he recalled, he had contacted the Police on the day of the broadcast and they had also expressed concern because of the many cases of cruelty to animals which they attended.
 When it determines a complaint that a broadcast contravenes Principle 1 of the Radio Code, the Authority is required to determine whether the material complained about breached currently accepted standards of good taste and decency, taking into account the context of the broadcast. The context is relevant, but not determinative of whether the programme breached the Principle. Accordingly, the Authority has considered the context of the broadcast complained about to the extent that it has been able to.
 According to Mr Butcher, some cruel and vicious methods were suggested by callers when invited by The Edge to phone in and suggest how to get rid of a singing hamster. The RadioWorks advised the Authority that the singing hamster, a toy purchased from the Warehouse, had been interjected throughout the broadcast of the breakfast programme.
 Mr Butcher argued that it made no difference whether the hamster was a toy or a pet, adding that one listener disclosed the simple basics of how to make an oxygen bomb. He pointed out that he had contacted the Police who, he said, expressed shock at the broadcaster’s irresponsibility.
 The RadioWorks maintained that the broadcast was a joke, and that it was an attempt to make listeners laugh.
 The Authority’s ability to assess this complaint is seriously compromised by the absence of a tape of the broadcast.
 With regard to Principle 1 and having examined the contextual matters as far as it could do so in the absence of a tape, the Authority finds that the unavailability of a tape precludes it from deciding whether community standards of good taste and decency were contravened. Therefore, it declines to determine this aspect.
 For precisely the same reason, the Authority is unable to conclude that Principle 2 or Principle 7, guideline b, were breached.
 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 its consideration of the complaint 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 reasons given above, 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
9 May 2002
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint: