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Swinney and RadioWorks Ltd - 2014-021

Members

  • Peter Radich (Chair)
  • Mary Anne Shanahan
  • Te Raumawhitu Kupenga

Complainant

  • Clare Swinney of Whangarei

Dated

17th June 2014

Number

2014-021

Channel/Station

Radio Live

Broadcaster

RadioWorks Ltd


Leigh Pearson declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the Authority’s determination of this complaint.


Summary [This summary does not form part of the decision.]

Talkback with Sean Plunket contained a discussion about the ‘chemtrails’ theory, in the context of comments made by Colin Craig that the Conservative Party was undecided about the validity of this theory. The Authority did not uphold the complaint that the host inaccurately claimed that chemtrails were not real, and denigrated people who believed in chemtrails by referring to them as ‘nutters’. The programme clearly comprised opinion rather than statements of fact, and people who believe in chemtrails are not a section of the community.

Not Upheld: Accuracy, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  Talkback with Sean Plunket contained a discussion about the ‘chemtrails’ theory, in the context of comments made by Colin Craig that the Conservative Party was undecided about the validity of this theory. The host introduced the discussion as follows:

Now there is a new elephant in the middle of Colin Craig’s pulpit or room: chemtrails. Now chemtrails are one of the wackiest conspiracy theories that has ever spread like an intellectual cancer across the planet. Chemtrails, well I’m not exactly sure what chemtrails is, but the basic premise is that ‘they’ – and that’s just corporates, or government, or ex-Nazis… – that ‘they’ are putting little canisters of chemicals on the end of planes that fly over the whole world and they are drugging the whole population. That’s the chemtrails conspiracy theory, and it sounds as if Colin Craig might be buying that stuff. So we are going to find out from Colin Craig if he’s a ‘chemtrailer’ as well as a fluoride nutter, and I want to ask anyone out there who does know the truth about chemtrails to ring in and explain to me how this particular whack job conspiracy theory works.

[2]  During the discussion, the host was heavily critical of what he described as the chemtrails ‘conspiracy’ and those who believed in chemtrails. He described them as ‘loony’, ‘nutty’, ‘wacky’, and ‘rubbish’. Later in the programme, the host interviewed Colin Craig who confirmed his position that he had no opinion on the existence of chemtrails as he had not researched the topic. The programme was broadcast on 29 November 2013 on Radio Live.

[3]  Clare Swinney made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, alleging that the host inaccurately claimed that chemtrails are not real and ‘smeared the reputations of those who know and speak openly about chemtrail/aerosol technology by stating repeatedly that those who believed in chemtrails were “nutters”’.

[4]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the accuracy and discrimination and denigration standards, as set out in the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[5]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Was the broadcast misleading or inaccurate?

[6]  The accuracy standard (Standard 5) states that broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming is accurate in relation to all material points of fact, and does not mislead. The objective of this standard is to protect audiences from receiving misinformation and thereby being misled.1

[7]  Ms Swinney argued that the host inaccurately claimed that chemtrails are ‘not real’ and provided material that she said disputed the accusation that chemtrails are fiction.

[8]  RadioWorks said the discussion focused on the controversy surrounding the existence of chemtrails which was a ‘debatable topic’, and most of the content amounted to the host’s opinion. It said that talkback is a robust and provocative forum in which callers and the host express strong views forcibly, and where listeners reasonably expect hosts to make ‘narrow one-sided, hyperbolic and controversial statements “for effect” and to generate discussion and debate’.

[9]  Guideline 5b states that talkback radio will not usually be subject to the accuracy standard, except where the presenter makes an unqualified statement of fact.

[10]  In this item, the host was clearly expressing his own opinion that chemtrails are not real, and did not make any unqualified statements of fact. This was supported by his choice of language and the way he framed his comments, for example his introductory comments that he was ‘not exactly sure what chemtrails is’ and his request for listeners to call in with the ‘truth about chemtrails’ (see paragraph [1]). We agree with the broadcaster that listeners understand the nature of talkback and that it is largely opinion-based, and as such they do not expect talkback programmes to be authoritative or precisely accurate sources of information.

[11]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the accuracy complaint.

Did the broadcast encourage discrimination against, or the denigration of, any recognised section of the community?

[12]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, a section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

[13]  Ms Swinney argued that by labelling them ‘nutters’, the host’s comments encouraged the denigration of, and discrimination against, people who supported Colin Craig’s idea that some trails emitted by aircraft could contain chemical agents, on account of their political belief.

[14]  RadioWorks disputed that the host’s comments were aimed at a group of people on the basis of their political beliefs. It argued that the discussion of chemtrails with Colin Craig was not one of policy, and noted that Mr Craig did not have a solid position on the existence of chemtrails.

[15]  In our view, people who believe in chemtrails, or who support Colin Craig’s comments about chemtrails, are not a section of the community as envisaged by the discrimination and denigration standard.

[16]  In any case, as we have said, reasonable listeners appreciate that talkback radio is a robust and opinionated forum. The host’s comments were obviously opinion and did not carry the level of invective necessary to encourage discrimination or denigraton. We also note that many people phoned into the programme and offered a range of perspectives, including in support of the chemtrails theory. Listeners were therefore left to form their own views about the validity of that theory and the people who supported it.

[17]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the discrimination and denigration complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
17 June 2014

Appendix

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

1                 Clare Swinney’s formal complaint – 30 November 2013

2                 RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 19 February 2014

3                 Ms Swinney’s referral to the Authority – 5 March 2014

4                 RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 4 April 2014

5                 Ms Swinney’s final comment – 15 April 2014

6                 RadioWorks’ confirmation of no final comment – 17 April 2014


1Bush and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2010-036