BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Dodds and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2002-025

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Theresa Dodds
Number
2002-025
Programme
Morning Rumble
Broadcaster
The RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
The Rock # 3

Complaint
The Rock – Morning Rumble – competition – the worst things that had ever happened to you when you’ve been drinking – story about drunk youth – stripped – drawn on – urinated over – crutch pushed into rectum – photos taken – person embarrassed and later left school – encourages abuse

Findings
Principle 1 – story offensive – uphold

Principle 7 guideline 7b – 7.15–8.15am normally accepted listening time for children – uphold

Order
Costs of $2,500 to the Crown

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] A competition entitled "The worst things that have ever happened to you when you’ve been drinking" was run on The Rock between 7.15–8.15am on 31 July 2001. The announcers read a fax about a young person who, when drunk at a party, had been stripped, drawn upon, urinated over, had a crutch put in his rectum, and photographed. Because of his embarrassment at the photographs, it was said, he left school about a week later.

[2] Theresa Dodds complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the story encouraged sexual abuse.

[3] Because of the "attitude" it said the complainant had taken in the correspondence, the broadcaster declined to determine the complaint unless given more details about the broadcast which was the subject of the complaint.

[4] Dissatisfied with the broadcaster’s lack of response to her substantive complaint, Ms Dodds referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] 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. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] The Morning Rumble announcers on The Rock on 31 July between 7.15–8.15am said that there was a competition for "The worst things that have ever happened to you when you’ve been drinking". They read a fax said to be from "Allen" in which he told a story about a party he had been at. A young person who had drunk too much, the announcers read, had collapsed. He had been stripped, drawn upon, urinated over, had a crutch put in his "arse", and photographed. Because of his embarrassment at the photographs, it was said, he had left school about a week later.

The Complaint

[7] Theresa Dodds complained that the story of sexual abuse was unacceptable. She noted that she was a Child Advocate trained in recognising and preventing abuse and such stories made her work much harder. The story related, she wrote, had probably ruined the youth’s chances of ever returning to school.

The Broadcaster's Response

[8] The RadioWorks assured the complainant that The Rock did not encourage sexual abuse and sought more details about the broadcast complained about.

The Complainant’s Complaint to the Broadcaster

[9] Objecting strongly to The Rock’s response which she felt questioned her honesty, Ms Dodds emphasised that her job as a Child Advocate involved preventing abuse in any way she could. She maintained that The Rock was destroying the work that she and others were doing, and expressed a wish that her complaint would be dealt with in an understanding and professional way.

The Broadcaster’s Response

[10] The Network Operations Manager for The RadioWorks expressed disappointment that he had been attacked and demeaned in the complainant’s correspondence. He asked for a specific date and time of the broadcast complained about in order to investigate the complaint.

The Complainant’s Response

[11] The complainant responded:

I am not asking a lot of you, all I ask is that you look into this complaint as you would any other and that you refrain from making assumptions until such a time as you have actually heard the broadcast in question. I do not believe this to be an unreasonable request and you could have saved us both a lot of time and effort had you done this from the beginning.

The Broadcaster’s Response

[12] Arguing that the complainant had not followed the correct procedure, The RadioWorks expressed a desire to bring the matter to an end unless the complainant supplied specific instances of the broadcast where child abuse had been supported.

The Complainant’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[13] When Ms Dodds referred her complaint to the Authority, she pointed out that she had earlier provided The RadioWorks with the details of the broadcast complained about.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[14] The RadioWorks sent the Authority a copy of the broadcast complained about and maintained that there had been no breach of standards.

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[15] In her final comment, Ms Dodds, expressed the hope that she was wrong about The Rock radio station.

The Authority’s Determination

[16] The RadioWorks advised that it considered that broadcasting standards were not breached. However, it did not record the Principle or Principles under which the complaint had been assessed. In view of the matters raised by the complainant, the Authority applies Principle 1 and Guideline 1a, and Principle 7 and Guideline 7b. They read:

Principle 1

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to maintain standards which are consistent with the observance of good taste and decency.

1a  Broadcasters will take into consideration current norms of decency and good taste in language and behaviour bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast eg time of day, target audience.

Principle 7

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.

[17] The Authority comments that it expects broadcasters to record the standards under which a complaint has been assessed. The Authority also points out that the antagonism apparent in the correspondence between the complainant and the broadcaster on this occasion would probably have not arisen had the broadcaster given the initial letter of complaint closer consideration.

[18] In its response, the broadcaster asked the complainant for the time and date of the broadcast. However, in her letter dated 31 July, Ms Dodds had advised the broadcaster that her complaint concerned a broadcast that morning. The Authority expresses its concern that the broadcaster’s complaints process does not appear to comply with the Principles in s.5 of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[19] In her letter of complaint to The RadioWorks, Ms Dodds complained that the broadcast on the morning of 31 July encouraged sexual abuse. As the encouragement of sexual abuse is not dealt with specifically in the broadcasting standards, the Authority applies the standards noted above.

[20] The Authority notes that its task in assessing the complaint under Principle 1 is to determine whether the broadcast complained about breached currently accepted norms, in the context in which it occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether the broadcast breached standards of good taste and decency.

[21] The Authority considers that the relevant contextual factors on this occasion include the behaviour described, including the reference to urination; the age of the young people who had apparently participated in the event; the evident lack of social responsibility of the participants in relation to heavy drinking and the described sexual abuse of the young man; and the co-hosts’ laughter as the story was being related on air. Finally one of the host’s comments on completion the story of a young man’s humiliation when he said, "Get hard mate" is considered by the Authority to be another contextual factor.

[22] Guideline 7b requires broadcasters to be mindful of the effect a programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times. As the Authority is of the view that the broadcast breached Principle 1, it is unhesitatingly of the view that the Guideline 7b is also contravened, provided the broadcast occurred during the normally accepted listening time of children.

[23] While the initial complaint referred only to the morning of 31 July, the time of the broadcast was narrowed down by the complainant in later correspondence to between 7.15–8.15am. The Authority regards this as normally accepted listening time for children and, accordingly, upholds the Principle 7 aspect of the complaint.

[24] In reaching its decision on this complaint, the Authority records that it has considered whether the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, is unjustifiably infringed. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold this complaint is made under its empowering legislation. The Authority is also satisfied that the exercise of its power on this occasion does not unduly restrict the broadcaster’s right to express itself freely. Indeed, it considers that the upholding of this complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified owing to the contents of the broadcast, while still giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act. In coming to this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of this complaint, including the nature of the breach and the potential impact of the order.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast by The RadioWorks Ltd of an item on The Rock on the morning of 31 July 2001 breached Principles 1 and 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[25] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss 13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. It invited submissions from the parties.

[26] Pointing out that The Rock did not condone sexual abuse, The RadioWorks suggested that The Rock broadcast an anti sexual/child abuse advertising campaign over a four week period. Ms Dodds argued for the imposition of an order for costs of $5,000 to the Crown.

[27] In view of the serious nature of the breach and the breach of two Principles in the Radio Code, and the reference to a range of socially irresponsible behaviour, along with a lack of detail as to the nature of the proposed advertising campaign, the Authority considers that the imposition of an order for costs to the Crown is appropriate. The Authority makers the following order:

Order

Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Broadcasting Standards Authority orders The RadioWorks Ltd to pay, within one month of the date of this decision, the sum of $2500 by way of costs to the Crown.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
7 March 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Theresa Dodds’ Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd (through the Broadcasting Standards Authority) – 31 July 2001
  2. The RadioWorks’ Initial Response to Ms Dodds – 17 August 2001
  3. Ms Dodds’ Further Complaint to The RadioWorks – 30 August 2001
  4. The RadioWorks’ Response to that letter – 4 September 2001
  5. Ms Dodds’ Reply to The RadioWorks – 20 September 2001
  6. The RadioWorks’ Response – 27 September 2001
  7. Ms Dodds’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 17 October 2001
  8. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Authority – 13 November 2001
  9. Ms Dodds’ Final Comment – 30 November 2001
  10. The RadioWorks’ Submission on Penalty – 8 February 2002
  11. Ms Dodds’ Submission on Penalty – 14 February 2002