BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Shieffelbien and RadioWorks Ltd - 2007-102

Members
  • Joanne Morris (Chair)
  • Diane Musgrave
  • Tapu Misa
  • Paul France
Dated
Complainant
  • Lucy Shieffelbien
Number
2007-102
Broadcaster
RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
The Edge

Complaint under section 8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989
The Edge – host prank called the National Poison Centre pretending that a friend had ingested window cleaner – allegedly in breach of social responsibility standard

Findings
Principle 7 (social responsibility) – the prank call wasted the Centre’s time and resources – the hosts knew that they did not require assistance from the Centre – the prank call was socially irresponsible – upheld

Order
Section 13(1)(a) – broadcast statement

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Broadcast

[1]   An item called “Win Dom’s Money” broadcast on The Edge at 8am on 9 August 2007, involved a radio personality named Chang being dared to drink a shot glass of glass cleaner for $60. Before the hosts allowed Chang to drink the shot, one of them rang a phone number located on the back of the bottle of glass cleaner. The phone number was that of the National Poison Centre (the Centre).

[2]   A female employee at the Centre answered the call and was told by the host that someone had ingested a shot glass sized quantity of glass cleaner. The host then questioned the woman about whether drinking the glass cleaner would be fatal and what action should be taken to help the person who had ingested it. The woman responded by giving the host medical advice about what to do and made it clear that it was not a life threatening situation.

[3]   After the call, Chang proceeded to drink what he thought was glass cleaner. The hosts then revealed that they were playing a prank on Chang, and the shot glass really contained a harmless blue-coloured energy drink.          

Complaint

[4]   Lucy Shieffelbien, the office manager at the National Poison Centre, made a formal complaint to RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, alleging that the item had breached standards of fairness and social responsibility.

[5]   The complainant stated that the call had been treated as a genuine poisoning enquiry, as the caller had indicated that ingestion of the glass cleaner had already occurred. She noted that “soon after the call we were alerted to the fact that it had been played on-air and that the presenters concerned were going to pay Chang to ingest a shot glass full of glass cleaner”.

[6]   Ms Shieffelbien argued that permission had not been given to record or broadcast the call live on-air, and that it was unfair to do so. She did not consider the “potentially dangerous” act of ingesting glass cleaner for money to be a legitimate use of humour.

[7]   The complainant maintained that it was socially irresponsible for the hosts to prank call the Centre because it would lead to “copy-cat” prank calls, one of which they received shortly after the broadcast. Ms Shieffelbien pointed out that during the fifteen minutes between the host’s call and the second prank call, the Centre was dealing with four actual poisoning emergencies.   

Referral to the Authority

[8]   Having received no decision from RadioWorks within the statutory time limit, Ms Shieffelbien referred her complaint to the Authority under section 8(1)(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

Principles

[9]   Principles 5 and 7 and guidelines 5a and 7b of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice are relevant to this complaint. They provide:

Principle 5

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

Guideline 5a

No telephone conversation will be recorded or broadcast for the purpose of news, current affairs or any other programme, unless the recipient has been advised that it is being recorded for possible broadcast, or is aware that the conversation is being broadcast. Exceptions may apply depending upon the context of the broadcast, including the legitimate use of humour.

Principle 7

In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to be socially responsible.

Guideline 7b         

Broadcasters shall be mindful of the effect any programme may have on children during their normally accepted listening times.

Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[10]   RadioWorks accepted that the prank call had wasted some of the Centre’s time, but noted that the call was relatively short in duration, and that the host had called back to explain what had happened and to apologise. 

[11]   The broadcaster maintained that the prank was “not necessarily a bad thing”, as young people would have been reminded that agencies like the National Poison Centre existed and were available to give advice. However, it considered that the “conversation” with the Centre did not comply with the requirements of the fairness standard and it upheld the complaint as a breach of Principle 5.

[12]   In terms of Principle 7, the broadcaster believed that “while at the margins of acceptability”, the prank was not socially irresponsible. RadioWorks argued that the item “demonstrated that ingesting cleaning fluids can have adverse health consequences and how those consequences might be addressed”.

[13]   The broadcaster maintained that the prank demonstrated social responsibility in a way that would appeal to and be remembered by the station’s youthful listeners. RadioWorks did not consider that the situation involved a “significant waste of resources” but was one of “sensible risk taking, presented in an Edge listener appropriate manner”. It declined to uphold the social responsibility complaint.     

[14]   RadioWorks stated that its committee had discussed the call with the radio station’s programme director, who was going to raise the issue with the hosts.

Complainant’s Final Comment

[15]   Ms Shieffelbien accepted that the broadcaster had upheld her complaint as a breach of Principle 5 (fairness). However, she maintained that the broadcast had also breached Principle 7 (social responsibility), and asked the Authority to review that aspect of her complaint.

[16]   In response to the broadcaster’s assertion that no significant resources were wasted, the complainant pointed out that the Centre had received four calls from The Edge radio station that morning, which she had verified with Telecom call records. The complainant maintained that the prank call was socially irresponsible, and asked the Authority to investigate that aspect of her complaint.

[17]   Ms Shieffelbien stated that for every call received a comprehensive call record had to be generated, in which every detail of the call was recorded by a Poisons Information Officer. The complainant explained that the officer then had to have each record peer reviewed, and then the records were reviewed by a doctor or medical toxicologist. She argued that the Centre’s time had been wasted, particularly because of the copy-cat prank calls it had also had to deal with that morning.       

Authority's Determination

[18]   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.

Principle 7 (social responsibility)

[19]   The Authority considers that the prank call made by the programme’s hosts to the Centre was a puerile and thoughtless act. The hosts knew that the shot glass was filled with an energy drink, and therefore knew that they did not require any assistance or information from the Centre.

[20]   In the Authority’s view, the hosts misled the Centre staff member and wasted the Centre’s valuable time and resources, solely for the purposes of entertainment. The broadcaster’s view that the prank was “not necessarily a bad thing” ignores the reality that prank calls to the Centre could potentially cause a delay in staff being able to deal with a real life-threatening emergency.  

[21]   The Authority notes that The Edgeis targeted at an audience of 10 to 29-year-olds. Further, the broadcast took place at 8am when children would have been among the audience at home or in the car on the way to school. It considers that many of the station’s listeners would not have been able to understand the potentially serious consequences of making a prank call to an organisation such as the Centre. Because the prank was portrayed in a positive and humorous light, the Authority finds that many of the station’s target audience would have considered that it was acceptable and “cool” to replicate the hosts’ actions.

[22]   For the reasons outlined above, the Authority agrees with Ms Shieffelbien that the prank was socially irresponsible and in breach of Principle 7.  Accordingly, it upholds the complaint.

 

For the above reasons the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast of an item on The Edge by RadioWorks on 9 August 2007 breached Principle 7 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

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

[24]   Ms Shieffelbien submitted that RadioWorks should be ordered to broadcast an apology in the form of a statement during the Morning Madhouse radio show. She also asked for a written copy of the broadcaster’s apology to be supplied to her.

[25]   RadioWorks submitted that the hosts had already apologised following the broadcast and that the publication of the Authority’s decision would be sufficient in the circumstances.

[26]   The Authority has considered the submissions from both parties. It finds it appropriate to order RadioWorks to broadcast a statement containing a comprehensive summary of its decision.

Bill of Rights

[27]   The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and taken into account all the circumstances of the complaint in reaching its determination and in ordering the broadcast of a statement. The  Authority considers that its exercise of powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s requirement that limits on freedom of expression must be prescribed by law, be reasonable, and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders RadioWorks Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement approved by the Authority containing a comprehensive summary of its decision.

The statement shall be broadcast on a Thursday morning during the Morning Madhouse show, on a date and at a time to be approved by the Authority.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(1)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority of the manner in which the above order has been complied with.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Joanne Morris
Chair
12 February 2008

Appendix

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

1.            Lucy Shieffelbien’s formal complaint to RadioWorks – 9 August 2007
2.           Ms Shieffelbien’s referral to the Authority – 3 October 2007
3.           RadioWorks’ response to the Authority – 10 October 2007
4.           Ms Shieffelbien’s final comment – 11 October 2007
5.           Ms Shieffelbien’s submissions on orders – 14 December 2007
6.           RadioWorks’ submissions on orders – 7 January 2008