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June and Free FM - 2014-134

Members

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

Complainant

  • Selwyn June of Hamilton

Dated

5th February 2015

Number

2014-134

Channel/Station

Free FM Radio

Broadcaster

Free FM

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

The hosts of Environment Matters discussed their views and opinions which were critical of conventional medicine and medical professionals. The Authority declined to uphold the complaint that the broadcast was unbalanced, irresponsible and denigrated medical professionals. Environment Matters was not a factual programme to which the balance standard applied and the hosts were clearly expressing their personal views so listeners would not have been unduly alarmed or distressed. Medical professionals are not a section of the community to which the discrimination and denigration standard applies.

Not Upheld: Controversial Issues, Responsible Programming, Discrimination and Denigration


Introduction

[1]  During a programme called Environment Matters the hosts discussed a number of topics and made numerous comments that were heavily critical of conventional medicine and medical professionals.

[2]  Selwyn June complained that no attempt was made by the broadcaster to provide balance on the issues discussed. He considered that the hosts' commentary about 'serious, life-threatening medical conditions were... likely to cause unwarranted alarm [and] undue distress in vulnerable people'. He argued that medical professionals were denigrated.

[3]  The issue is whether the broadcast breached the controversial issues, responsible programming, and discrimination and denigration standards of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[4]  The programme was broadcast on Free FM on 3 September 2014. The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix.

Did the content form part of a 'factual programme' to which the controversial issues standard applied?

[5]  The balance standard (Standard 4) states that when controversial issues of public importance are discussed in news, current affairs and factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant points of view either in the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest. The standard exists to ensure that competing arguments are presented to enable the audience to arrive at an informed and reasoned opinion.1

[6]  A number of criteria must be satisfied before the requirement to present significant alternative viewpoints is triggered. The standard applies only to news, current affairs and factual programmes which discuss a controversial issue of public importance. The subject matter must be an issue 'of public importance', it must be 'controversial', and it must be 'discussed'.2

[7]  Environment Matters was clearly not 'news' or 'current affairs', so the question is whether it was 'factual'. A 'factual programme' is one which presents itself, and is reasonably understood by the audience, to be an authoritative source of information, as opposed to consisting of opinion or hyperbole.3

[8]  In our view Environment Matters was not a 'factual' programme within the meaning of the standard. It clearly consisted solely of the personal views and opinions of the hosts, as opposed to being an authoritative or factual source of information. The hosts did not present themselves as experts on the topics discussed, and the audience would have understood that they were presenting their own views, often told in the context of personal anecdotes and based on their personal experiences. In this respect, we note the broadcaster's contention that access radio provides 'broadcast opportunities to fringe views, or to causes and concerns not necessarily given mainstream airtime, [and] we do attract people with specific views, or even with an axe to grind'. It described these particular hosts as 'well-known campaigners for "natural health" practices, anti-fluoride, [and] anti-immunisation' and said their 'mind-set drives their perspective on these matters'.

[9]  In this context, the audience would not have been misinformed or misled by the omission of alternative viewpoints on the efficacy of conventional medicine or the competence of medical professionals. We also note the broadcaster's assurance that the programme will now begin with a recorded statement informing listeners that the content reflects the views of the hosts.

[10]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the complaint under Standard 4.

Did the broadcast breach the responsible programming standard?

[11]  The responsible programming standard (Standard 8) requires broadcasters to be mindful of child listeners and to ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible, taking into account the context in which it is broadcast.

[12]  Mr June argued that the host's statements had the potential to 'instil fear and cause distress in people suffering health problems'. He said that 'ill-informed people could have been misled into avoiding medical treatment to the detriment of their health'.

[13]  Free FM said, 'We expect listeners to judge for themselves the credibility, or lack of credibility, of the show hosts.' It said the hosts had nevertheless been advised that they need to be mindful of causing unwarranted alarm and 'better identify' when they are making statements of opinion.

[14]  As the show clearly consisted of the views of the hosts concerned we do not think that listeners would have been alarmed or unduly influenced by their comments. We disagree that vulnerable listeners were likely to avoid medical treatment based solely on the fringe views of these hosts.

[15]  We therefore decline to uphold this part of the complaint.

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

[16]  The discrimination and denigration standard (Standard 7) protects against broadcasts which encourage the denigration of, or discrimination against, any 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.

[17]  The complainant argued that the hosts denigrated medical professionals, for example by describing surgeons as 'butchers', nurses as 'legalised drug pushers' and dentists as 'brutal' and 'incompetent'. Free FM responded that the standard does not apply to material which is a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, in accordance with guideline 7a(ii).

[18]  'Medical professionals' are not a section of the community to which the standard applies. 'Occupational status' as mentioned in the standard refers to employment status (for example, being unemployed or the recipient of a benefit), rather than a particular occupation.

[19]  Accordingly, we decline to uphold the Standard 7 complaint.

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Radich
Chair
5 February 2015

 

Appendix

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

1     Selwyn June's formal complaint – 25 September 2014
2     Free FM's response to the complaint – 26 September 2014
3     Mr June's referral to the Authority – 27 October 2014
4     Free FM's response to the Authority – 30 October 2014

 

 


1Commerce Commission and TVWorks Ltd, Decision No. 2008-014

For further discussion of these concepts see Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Television (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2010) and Practice Note: Controversial Issues – Viewpoints (Balance) as a Broadcasting Standard in Radio (Broadcasting Standards Authority, June 2009)

ACC and Television New Zealand Ltd, Decision No. 2006-126