BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

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Mitchell and Radio Wanaka - 2009-041

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Rachelle Mitchell
Number
2009-041
Broadcaster
Radio Wanaka
Channel/Station
Radio Wanaka

Complaint under sections 8(1B)(b)(i) and 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
Radio Wanaka – complainant had raised concerns with the media about the theme of her daughter's school's ball after-party – host said the complainant needed "to get bloody bulleted out of town" – broadcaster upheld part of fairness complaint and broadcast an apology the following week – action taken allegedly insufficient

Findings
Standard 6 (fairness) – not unfair to include complainant's name in the broadcast – action taken by broadcaster in relation to part of complaint upheld appropriate and sufficient – not upheld

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   On the morning of 3 April 2009, the hosts of Radio Wanaka's breakfast show discussed a parent's concerns about an after-party following her daughter's school ball, which had the theme "White Supreeemacy". The parent had raised the matter with the school principal and had also contacted other media outlets.

[2]  Radio Wanaka broadcast a news bulletin about the matter, and then held a studio interview with the principal and two students from the school. After the interview, one host discussed at length the school's excellent record and the notable achievements of its students, and then commented that "I just don't believe that there was any malice in this... at all." The other host responded:

Well, I had to sit in the studio with two girls and the principal, and [girl’s name] had tears in her eyes. If she did that on purpose – I tell you what, this Mitchell woman needs to get bloody bulleted out of town...

[3]  On the Monday morning following the broadcast, 6 April 2009, the host said:

Last Friday morning on the breakfast show I made a comment referring to Shelley Mitchell in regards to the issue of the national media attention Wanaka was receiving that morning. The comment was made in the heat of the moment and at a time when emotions were running high here at Radio Wanaka. I now accept that the comment was inappropriate and I regret any offence it may have caused to Shelley and her family. I unreservedly apologise for that comment.

Complaint

[4]  Rachelle Mitchell made a formal complaint to Radio Wanaka, the broadcaster, alleging that the broadcast was unfair to her. She said the host had spoken "very offensively" towards her, saying her name a few times and suggesting that she should be run out of town. She said her family had suffered distress as a result.

Standards

[5]  Ms Mitchell nominated Standard 6 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice in her complaint. It provides:

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

Broadcaster's Response to the Complainant

[6]  By way of background, Radio Wanaka noted that Ms Mitchell had phoned the radio station asking that it broadcast the fact that her daughter's college's after-party was themed "White Supreeemacy". She had said she was offended by this, had contacted the school and was also contacting media outlets to draw the attention of parents to the situation. She had confirmed that she had contacted the Otago Daily Times and had been contacted by other media including the Southland Times. The station owner had phoned her back to discuss the issue, Radio Wanaka said, and was told that the school principal had agreed to change the name of the party, but that Ms Mitchell still questioned how the situation had arisen in the first place.

[7]  Radio Wanaka subsequently wrote a story about the issue for the station's news bulletin. Following the news item, a studio interview took place between one of the show's two hosts, two of the students responsible for the name of the after-party, and the school's principal. The students were very upset that their actions had brought the college’s good name into disrepute, the broadcaster said. Later, a conversation took place between the two hosts, in which reference was made to the good record of Mt Aspiring College. One host then commented at the very end of the conversation that Ms Mitchell needed "to get bloody bulleted out of town".

[8]  The broadcaster considered that the complainant was concerned with two aspects of the broadcast; first, that her name had been broadcast, and second, the comment made about her by the station's host.

[9]  With regard to the broadcast of her name, Radio Wanaka maintained that Ms Mitchell had not been treated unfairly. At no stage had Ms Mitchell told Radio Wanaka that she did not want her name broadcast, the broadcaster said, and when it spoke to Ms Mitchell after the news story, she agreed that she had not asked that her name not be mentioned. She had said that she did not think a story would be run at that stage because the situation had been resolved by the school. It declined to uphold this part of the complaint.

[10]  However, Radio Wanaka accepted that the host's comment about Ms Mitchell being "bulleted out of town" was totally inappropriate, and it upheld this aspect of the fairness complaint. It said that the host concerned had been spoken to, and he had agreed that the comment was inappropriate. The host said he had "made the comment on the spur of the moment because he was himself upset at the impact the national media attention that morning was having on our college". The host immediately agreed to apologise to the complainant on air, the broadcaster said, and Ms Mitchell was informed of the day and time it would be broadcast. The host had written the apology which was then approved by the station owner and broadcast at 8.10am on Monday 6 April.

[11]  Since then, the host had attended two formal meetings with the station owner, who had highlighted the importance of the station’s obligations under the Broadcasting Act 1989, and counselled the host about the ramifications for the station of comments such as he had made. At the second meeting, the host gave assurances that he had read the material outlining the broadcaster's obligations and understood what was required of him. Radio Wanaka stated that it would not expect any repeat of this type of comment in the future, and noted that this was the first complaint against the host during his 36 years in broadcasting. Other staff had also been reminded of the station’s obligations under the Broadcasting Act, Radio Wanaka said.

Referral to the Authority

[12]  Dissatisfied with Radio Wanaka's response, Ms Mitchell referred her complaint to the Authority under sections 8(1B)(b)(i) and 8(1B)(b)(ii) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

[13]  The complainant said that as a result of the "spiteful" and "unprofessional" comments made on air by the station’s host, her family had dealt with some "very hurtful" responses from the Wanaka community. Ms Mitchell was not satisfied with the host's on-air apology. She considered it to be "a cold pre-recorded message that expressed no genuine feelings at all".

Broadcaster's Response to the Authority

[14]  Radio Wanaka reiterated that Ms Mitchell had contacted the station seeking publicity and had not asked that her name not be mentioned. It was satisfied with the content of and the manner in which the apology had been delivered.

[15]  Radio Wanaka considered that the complainant had failed to understand that the host’s comment was not made because she had raised the issue with the school. In fact, it said, many people agreed that the issue should have been taken up with the school because the students had made a foolish mistake in choosing the name for the party. It was the fact that Ms Mitchell had contacted several media agencies leading to national media attention that had upset people.

[16]  The host was "absolutely devastated" as this was the first time in 36 years that he had been the subject of a complaint. Radio Wanaka had also not previously had a complaint brought against it, and believed that it had acted responsibly under the Broadcasting Act in dealing with the matter by broadcasting a formal on-air apology and holding a refresher course for staff.

Complainant's Final Comment

[17]  Ms Mitchell maintained that she had only spoken to the Otago Daily Times and Radio Wanaka, but had not made any official comment to the radio station, and at that stage had spoken only to a receptionist, not to the station owner. Another parent who she had spoken to about the issue had provided other media outlets with Ms Mitchell's name and phone number. Ms Mitchell said she had spoken to those media outlets over the phone but made it clear that she did not want her name publicised. After contacting the school and resolving her concerns, she had contacted the Otago Daily Times and said that the tickets had been recalled and she was satisfied with that outcome. Her concern, she said, was how the school had allowed the tickets to be approved, and the Otago Daily Times had published a "very appropriate story" to that effect.

[18]  Later, Ms Mitchell had spoken to Radio Wanaka informing it that her concerns had been resolved. Accordingly, she had not expected the station to broadcast anything, she said, and certainly did not expect the host to be "unprofessional and encourage [people] to run me out of town".

Broadcaster's Final Comment

[19]  Radio Wanaka maintained that the action it had taken was appropriate considering the circumstances and emotions on the morning of the broadcast. The broadcaster stood by its decision to broadcast the story, and reiterated that Ms Mitchell had not requested that her name not be mentioned on air.

Authority's Determination

[20]  The members of the Authority have listened to a recording of the broadcast complained about and the subsequent apology and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

[21]  Standard 6 requires broadcasters to deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to in a programme. Ms Mitchell argued that the use of her name in the broadcast, as well as the comment made by the host, was unfair to her. Radio Wanaka upheld the second aspect of the complaint, and broadcast an apology.

[22]  With regard to the broadcast of Ms Mitchell's name, the Authority finds that Radio Wanaka did not treat the complainant unfairly. The broadcaster maintained that Ms Mitchell did not request that her name not be mentioned, and the complainant has not disputed that.

[23]  The Authority is also of the view that the broadcaster dealt admirably with the complaint about the host’s comment by upholding a breach of Standard 6, broadcasting an apology, and reminding its staff about the station’s obligations under the Broadcasting Act. It considers that the apology was appropriate and sincere.

[24]  Accordingly, the Authority finds that the action taken by the broadcaster was sufficient in the circumstances, and it declines to uphold the complaint.

 

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

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
8 July 2009

Appendix

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

1.        Shelley Mitchell's formal complaint – 3 April 2009
2.        Radio Wanaka's response to the complaint – 23 April 2009
3.        Ms Mitchell's referral to the Authority – 27 April 2009
4.        Radio Wanaka's response to the Authority – 29 April 2009
5.        Final comment from the broadcaster – 18 May 2009