BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Smith and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2002-026

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • B Hayward
  • R Bryant
  • J H McGregor
Dated
Complainant
  • Karen Smith
Number
2002-026
Programme
The Edge
Broadcaster
RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
The Edge

Complaint
The Edge – announcer makes anonymous call to woman – purports to be buying magazines – says has fetish for "shirtless Papua New Guinea women" – threatening and offensive – breach of good taste and decency

Findings
Principle 1 – sinister – threatening – breach of good taste and decency – uphold

Order
Broadcast of summary – costs of $500 to Crown

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] During a broadcast on The Edge on 17 October 2001 between 9.30am and 10.00am, one of the announcers telephoned a woman who was advertising National Geographic magazines, purporting to be a potential buyer. He told the woman he had a fetish for "topless Papua New Guinea women" and requested copies of the magazines carrying such pictures.

[2] Karen Smith complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the call was effectively an obscene phone call, and that she had found it offensive.

[3] TRW declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of broadcasting standards, stating that the call was intended to be humorous and entertaining.

[4] Dissatisfied with TRW’s decision, Ms Smith referred her complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons given, the Authority upholds the complaint.

Decision

[5] The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the broadcast complained about and have read the correspondence listed in the Appendix. The Authority determines this complaint without a formal hearing.

The Programme

[6] During a broadcast on The Edge on 17 October 2001 between 9.30am and 10.00am, one of the announcers telephoned a woman who was advertising National Geographic magazines, purporting to be a potential buyer. He told her he had a fetish for "topless Papua New Guinea women" and requested copies of the magazines carrying such pictures. He told the woman he would pay extra if she would identify the relevant magazines for him. When she said she was going out and requested that he ring back that evening, the announcer asked the woman where she was going and how she was getting there.

The Complaint

[7] Karen Smith complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the call was effectively an obscene phone call, and that she had found it offensive.

[8] She said:

The call gave me the creeps and upset my children (an 18-year-old and 15-year-old) to the extent that they changed stations.

Does your radio station condone what in effect is an obscene phone call? This is not responsible radio. I would hope that someone at your station rang that woman and apologised and reassured her that it wouldn’t happen again.

[9] The complainant did not receive a response to her original letter of complaint. She had telephoned the station and asked where to send the letter, and had been given an address in Edgecumbe. Accordingly, she sent another copy of her original complaint to TRW via email, and asked that it be dealt with.

The Standard

[10] TRW considered Ms Smith’s complaint under Principle 1 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice which reads:

Principle 1

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

Guidelines

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.

TRW’s Response to the Complaint

[11] TRW declined to uphold the complaint as a breach of Principle 1, stating that the broadcast was not intended to be offensive. Rather, the desired outcome had been to entertain the audience, it said.

Ms Smith’s Referral to the Authority

[12] In her referral to the Authority, Ms Smith said:

It is not alright to call women with sexual innuendo and threats. It demeans them and encourages violence against them. Anonymous phone calls like this are cowardly in the extreme and should definitely not be encouraged.

TRW’s Response to the Authority

[13] In its response to the Authority, TRW acknowledged that the complainant may have found the call "threatening", but said the woman who answered the call invited the announcer to call back that evening. It said:

We maintain that if she found the call to be offensive or threatening she would not have issued that invitation.

[14] TRW reiterated that the broadcast was intended to be humorous, and said Ms Smith’s was the only complaint it had received.

The Authority’s Determination

[15] When the Authority considers complaints which allege a breach of good taste and decency, it takes into account the context in which the alleged breach occurred. The context is relevant, but not decisive, to the Authority’s determination of whether there has been a breach.

[16] This complaint concerns the broadcast of a phone call to a woman by an announcer purporting to be a potential buyer of her National Geographic magazines. The Authority considers the phone call transgressed currently accepted norms of decency and behaviour. It arrives at this conclusion by taking into consideration the sinister tone and tenor of the broadcast, the announcer’s reference to his "fetish", and his questioning of the woman as to where she was going and how she was getting there. The complainant wrote that the call gave her "the creeps", and the Authority concurs that the call was beyond the current norms of taste and decency. It upholds the complaint.

[17] The Authority does not accept the broadcaster’s justification for the broadcast. It does not consider it acceptable in the interests of entertaining an audience to make anonymous telephone calls to people who are not aware they are being broadcast, to talk about a "fetish" and then to ask the woman who answered the phone where she was going and how she was getting there. In addition, the Authority does not agree with the broadcaster, because the woman suggested the announcer call back that evening, that she was not entitled to find the call offensive or threatening.

[18] In reaching this decision, the Authority records that it has considered whether the limits it has placed upon the broadcaster’s right to freedom of expression, as contained in s.14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, are demonstrably justified as required by s.5 of the Bill of Rights Act. The Authority is satisfied that its decision to uphold the complaint, and impose any order, 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 while still giving effect to the intention of the Broadcasting Act, upholding this complaint is reasonable and demonstrably justified, in particular because of the threatening tone and tenor of the broadcast.

[19] Finally, the Authority notes that when the complainant rang the radio station to request an address to which she could send her original complaint, she was given an address in Edgecumbe. For whatever reason, the broadcaster did not process her complaint. The Authority wishes to remind the broadcaster of its statutory responsibility to establish procedures for investigating complaints. It considers that all employees should be aware of the broadcaster’s procedures for receiving complaints.

 

For the reasons above, the Authority upholds the complaint.

[20] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may make orders under ss.13 and 16 of the Broadcasting Act. Accordingly, it invited the parties to make submissions. The complainant argued for the broadcast of a statement summarising the decision and the order of reasonable costs to the Crown. The broadcaster considered the breach to be minor and suggested a letter of apology to the complainant, and the broadcast of an apology on air.

[21] The Authority considers that the call, especially when the woman who said she was going out was asked where she was going and how she was getting there, was a serious breach of the standards. It concludes that orders for a statement on air , including an apology, and the payment of costs to the Crown are appropriate.

Order

Pursuant to section 13(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989, the Authority orders The Radioworks Ltd to broadcast, within one month of the date of this decision, a statement explaining why the complaint was upheld. The statement shall include an apology. The statement shall be approved by the Authority and shall be broadcast at a time and date to be approved by the Authority.

Pursuant to section 16(4) of the Act, the Authority orders The RadioWorks Ltd to pay, within one month of the date of this decision, the sum of $500 by way of costs to the Crown.

The Authority draws the broadcaster’s attention to the requirement in section 13(3)(b) of the Act for the broadcaster to give notice to the Authority and the complainant of the manner in which the order has been complied with.

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. Karen Smith’s Formal Complaint to The RadioWorks Ltd – 17 October 2001
  2. Ms Smith’s Formal Complaint to TRW – resent by email 26 November 2001
  3. TRW’s Response to the Formal Complaint – 30 November 2001
  4. Ms Smith’s Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 13 December 2001
  5. TRW’s Response to the Authority – 20 December 2001
  6. Ms Smith’s Submission on an Order – 19 February 2002
  7. TRW’s Submission on an Order – 20 February 2002