de Villiers and RadioWorks Ltd - 2010-004
- Peter Radich (Chair)
- Leigh Pearson
- Tapu Misa
- Mary Anne Shanahan
- Alex de Villiers
ProgrammeThe Edge Morning Madhouse
Complaint under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Edge Morning Madhouse – host broadcast phone calls recorded at 3.30am Australian time to Australian residents with horse racing-related surnames to ask for betting tips for the Melbourne Cup – allegedly in breach of privacy and good taste and decency
Standard 1 (good taste and decency) – childish prank intended to be humorous – did not threaten standards of good taste and decency – not upheld
Standard 3 (privacy) – people phoned were not identifiable – no private facts disclosed – not upheld
This headnote does not form part of the decision.
 During The Edge Morning Madhouse, broadcast on The Edge on the morning of Tuesday 3 November, one of the hosts noted that the Melbourne Cup was “the race that stops the nation”, but questioned whether it might be “the race that wakes the nation”. He said he had phoned a number of Australian residents with horse racing-related surnames at 5.30am New Zealand time, being around 3.30am in Melbourne, to ask if they had any tips for betting on the race. Recordings of the phone calls were broadcast. All of the people the host called sounded irritated at being woken up at that time and hung up the phone.
 Alex de Villiers made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast of the prank calls breached standards relating to good taste and decency and privacy. He argued that the privacy of the individuals phoned was breached because the host did not advise them that they would be on the radio, and that it was in poor taste to wake them up during the night “in order to entertain daytime listeners”.
 Mr de Villiers nominated Standards 1 and 3 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in his complaint. These provide:
Standard 1 Good Taste and Decency
Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.
Standard 3 Privacy
Broadcasters should maintain standards consistent with the privacy of the individual.
Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant
 RadioWorks contended that to constitute a breach of Standard 1, the broadcast material must be unacceptable in the context in which it was aired, including the time of broadcast and the likely or target audience. It argued that the hosts of The Edge Morning Madhouse were renowned for their quirky sense of humour, light-hearted banter, and regularly engineering “mischievous but innocuous” pranks sometimes at the expense of listeners. RadioWorks argued that the humour was “intended purely to entertain”, and that the programme was targeted at adults aged between 18 and 35.
 The broadcaster considered that, while The Edge’s approach may not always attract universal appeal, the practice of making prank calls in order to entertain fell within the expectations of its audience. It argued that “whether they are made in bad taste depends on factors such as the nature of the set up, and the eventual response of the recipient”. On this occasion, RadioWorks considered that the calls were “fairly innocuous, the most provocative aspect being their timing”. It concluded that this in itself was not offensive, which was supported by the “relatively mild responses” of the people called. RadioWorks therefore did not uphold the Standard 1 complaint.
 Looking at privacy, the broadcaster stated that it must first decide whether the persons whose privacy had allegedly been interfered with were identifiable in the broadcast. It noted that only the last names of the people called were revealed, and considered that no other aspects of the broadcast made their identity known. In addition, it said, the calls were made to people in Australia which made it more difficult for New Zealand listeners to identify them. RadioWorks therefore concluded that the people were not identifiable and it declined to uphold the privacy complaint.
Referral to the Authority
 Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s response, Mr de Villiers referred his complaint to the Authority under section 8(1B)(b)(i) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.
 The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.
Standard 1 (good taste and decency)
 In the Authority’s view, the phone calls made by the radio host were childish pranks which, when played back, were intended to be humorous. The Authority considers that many people would rightly regard calling people up at 3.30am for the sake of entertainment as rude and inconsiderate.
 However, the Authority agrees with the broadcaster that the content of the phone calls was innocuous. It notes that prank calls tend to raise issues of fairness (and sometimes privacy) rather than good taste and decency, which is primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language.
 Accordingly, the Authority concludes that the broadcast of the phone calls did not stray beyond current norms of good taste and decency in breach of Standard 1.
Standard 3 (privacy)
 When the Authority considers a privacy complaint, it must first determine whether the person whose privacy has allegedly been interfered with was identifiable in the broadcast.
 Mr de Villiers complained that the privacy of the people who were phoned by the station was breached. Aside from their surnames and the fact that they lived in Melbourne, the Authority notes that no other identifying factors were revealed about the people called. In these circumstances it finds that listeners would not have been able to identify them from the broadcast.
 Having found that the individuals were not identifiable, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint that their privacy was breached.
For the above reasons the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.
Signed for and on behalf of the Authority
23 March 2010
The following correspondence was received and considered by the Authority when it determined this complaint:
1. Alex de Villiers’ formal complaint – 3 November 2009
2. RadioWorks’ response to the complaint – 17 December 2009
3. Mr de Villiers’ referral to the Authority – 22 December 2009
4. RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 18 January 2010