BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Yates and The RadioWorks Ltd - 2002-099

Members
  • P Cartwright (Chair)
  • J H McGregor
  • R Bryant
Dated
Complainant
  • Bryan and Catherine Yates
Number
2002-099
Programme
The Edge interview
Broadcaster
The RadioWorks Ltd
Channel/Station
The Edge # 3
Standards Breached

Complaint
The Edge – interview – impersonation of Jeremy Yates – cyclist banned for bad language – interview apparently with Jeremy Yates used offensive language which was beeped out – unfair – misleading – encourages discrimination and denigration

Findings
Principle 5 – not obviously a spoof – wrong brother the target for the prank – uphold

Principle 7 guideline 7a – no group denigrated – no uphold

No Order

This headnote does not form part of the decision.


Summary

[1] Cyclist Jeremy Yates was banned from participating in events by Cycling NZ for using bad language and displaying bad behaviour. An interview, apparently with Jeremy Yates, was broadcast during the breakfast show on The Edge on 11 April 2002. During the interview, the interviewee frequently used offensive language, which was "beeped out", and expressed displeasure that the broadcaster was not supporting him in his dispute with Cycling NZ.

[2] Bryan and Catherine Yates, parents of Jeremy, complained to The RadioWorks Ltd, the broadcaster, that the interview which impersonated their son was misleading, and that the exchange was detrimental to him.

[3] In response, The RadioWorks said the ban was widely reported in the media, and the "light-hearted" take-off would have lacked credibility to listeners.

[4] Dissatisfied with The RadioWorks’ reply, the Yates referred the complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority upholds the complaint as a breach of Principle 5 of the Radio Code. It declines to impose an order.

Decision

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

The Programme

[6] Cyclists, Jeremy Yates and his brother Matthew Yates, were banned from participating in events by Cycling NZ for using bad language and displaying bad behaviour. An interview, apparently with Jeremy Yates, was broadcast during the breakfast show on The Edge on 11 April 2002. During the interview, the interviewee frequently used offensive language, which was "beeped out", and expressed displeasure that the broadcaster was not supporting him in his dispute with Cycling NZ.

The Complaint

[7] Bryan and Catherine Yates, parents of Jeremy, complained to The RadioWorks Ltd that the interview which impersonated their son was misleading, and that the exchange was detrimental to him.

The Standards

[8] The RadioWorks assessed the complaint under Principle 7, guideline 7a, of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice. It reads:

Principle 7

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

Guideline

7a  Broadcasters will not portray people in a manner which encourages denigration of or discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender, race, age, disability, occupational status, sexual orientation; or as the consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political beliefs. This requirement does not extend to prevent the broadcast of material which is:

i) factual; or

ii) a genuine expression of serious comment, analysis or opinion, or

iii) is by way of legitimate humour or satire.

The Broadcaster’s Response

[9] Acknowledging that the item would have caused distress to the complainants, The RadioWorks advised it was:

… a light-hearted "over the top" take off of [Jeremy’s] reported behaviour in a way that I believe was unbelievable for a listener to regard it as actually him.

The Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority

[10] Describing the item as a "tasteless impersonation", the complainants maintained that The Edge’s teenage audience would believe that the interviewee was in fact Jeremy Yates.

[11] The complainants advised that another son had been harangued at school as his school friends thought Jeremy was the interviewee. Moreover, they added, Jeremy himself was distressed to hear of the programme.

The Broadcaster’s Response to the Authority

[12] Pointing out that the behaviour of the Yates brothers had resulted in their suspension, The RadioWorks described the broadcast as a legitimate attempt at humour and satire.

[13] The RadioWorks noted that the broadcast was a spoof of an email, sent by the Yates to Cycling NZ in response to the suspension, which contained "a great deal of bad language".

The Complainant’s Final Comment

[14] In their final comment, the Yates questioned whether the spoof observed the standards relating to good taste and decency.

Further Submissions

[15] As the complaint raised the issue of fairness, The RadioWorks was asked by the Authority to consider the complaint under Principle 5 of the Radio Code. It requires broadcasters:

Principle 5
In programmes and their presentation, broadcasters are required to deal justly and fairly with any person taking part or referred to.

[16] The RadioWorks advised that there had been considerable publicity given to the fact that the Yates brothers had been suspended by the Cycling Federation, and ordered to attend anger management courses, because of their threatening behaviour and bad language. It added:

Many radio stations read out the actual email with the offending words deleted. The prank telephone call was an obvious piece of satire, Jeremy Yates the subject, based on the above incidents.

[17] The complainants’ response to this letter pointed out that the email which had received publicity was in fact written by Jeremy’s brother, Matthew. They stated that at about the same time as the broadcast on The Edge about which they complained, an apology from Jeremy was being broadcast on National Radio.

[18] The Yates acknowledged that both Jeremy and Matthew had used "somewhat intemperate" language in emails, but only Matthew’s had been released by Cycling New Zealand. They reiterated that the broadcast "was not obviously a take off" as Jeremy’s mother had considered it necessary to telephone him in Italy to confirm that it was not him.

[19] Following its initial consideration of the complaint, the Authority asked The RadioWorks for the time of the broadcast, whether the item had been introduced in a way which suggested that it was a prank, and whether the broadcaster had any response to the comments from the Yates summarised in paragraphs [17] and [18] above.

[20] In response, The RadioWorks said that the item was broadcast at about 7.18am and that it was unable to provide further tapes. It wrote:

We maintain that the reputation of both boys had previously been damaged through their actions and subsequent public suspension. Cycling NZ saw fit to order both boys to attend anger management courses. The reason for this was the abusive language used by the boys, directed at race officials. This was public knowledge.

The telephone conversation was obviously a spoof, hence the "beeping out" of supposed bad language.

We believe that the spoof call could not have further damaged the already tarnished reputation of Jeremy Yeats [sic].

The Authority’s Determination

[21] The brothers Jeremy and Matthew Yates were suspended by Cycling NZ because of their behaviour and language used towards race officials. The complainants, the parents of Jeremy and Matthew, advised that Cycling NZ, when it announced its decision, released an email written by Matthew Yates which included offensive language. The contents of this email, The RadioWorks observed, was read by a number of broadcasters when the expletives were deleted.

[22] The complainants reported that the broadcast complained about failed to differentiate between the brothers’ responses to the suspension. Jeremy, they noted, was in "damage control" and was trying to redeem himself.

[23] The broadcast on The Edge complained about, on the morning of 11 April, apparently included an interview with Jeremy. Jeremy’s comments included language which was "beeped out".

[24] The RadioWorks said it was a spoof, which would have been obvious to listeners and, given Cycling NZ’s actions, it was not possible to tarnish further the reputation of the Yates brothers.

[25] The complainants stated that they were not aware that the call was a spoof, and they explained that some of the friends of their younger son also accepted that it was in fact Jeremy. Furthermore, it will be recalled that Jeremy’s mother had considered it necessary to telephone him in Italy to confirm that it was not him. Accordingly, the Authority does not accept The RadioWorks’ contention that the interview "was obviously a spoof".

[26] The Authority acknowledges the point made by The RadioWorks that it may well be not unfair to lampoon someone for their use of offensive language if such use is clearly a central aspect of that person’s language. If the broadcast complained about had lampooned Matthew, it is most unlikely that the Authority would have upheld a complaint that it was unfair. However, whereas The RadioWorks treated each brother as identical in view of the similar action of Cycling NZ, the brothers’ responses to their suspensions differed. By focusing on Jeremy rather than Matthew, the Authority considers that the broadcast breached the requirement in Principle 5 that people referred to be dealt with fairly.

[27] The social objective of regulating broadcasting standards is to guard against broadcasters behaving unfairly, offensively, or otherwise excessively. The Broadcasting Act clearly limits freedom of expression. Section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that the right to freedom of expression may be limited by "such reasonable limits which are prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society". For the reasons given in Decision Nos. 2002-071/072, dated 6 June 2002, the Authority is firmly of the opinion that the limits in the Broadcasting Act are reasonable and demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. The Authority records that it has given full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 when exercising its powers under the Broadcasting Act on this occasion. For the reasons given in this decision, including in particular the failure to distinguish between the brothers, the Authority considers that the exercise of its powers on this occasion is consistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. In reaching this conclusion, the Authority has taken into account all the circumstances of these complaints, including the nature of the complaints and the impact on the Yates’ family.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the broadcast, by The RadioWorks Ltd, of an item on The Edge at about 7.18am on 11 April 2002 breached Principle 5 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice.

[28] Having upheld a complaint, the Authority may impose an order under ss.13 or 16 of the Broadcasting Act 1989. On the basis that the broadcaster had a valid matter on which to broadcast a prank, but erred only in its choice of the precise target, the Authority does not consider that an order is appropriate.

[29] The Authority observes that to make an order on this occasion would be to apply the Broadcasting Act 1989 in such a way as to limit freedom of expression in a manner which is not reasonable or demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society (s.5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990). As required by s.6 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Authority exercises its discretion in a manner which it considers is consistent with and gives full weight to the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Peter Cartwright
Chair
8 August 2002

Appendix

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

  1. Bryan and Catherine Yates’ Complaint to The Edge – 11 April 2002
  2. The Edge’s Response to the Yates – 18 April 2002
  3. The Yates’ Referral to the Broadcasting Standards Authority – 21 April 2002
  4. The RadioWorks’ Response to the Authority – 30 April 2002
  5. The Yates’ Final Comment – 4 May 2002
  6. The Authority’s Letter to The RadioWorks seeking a response to the Principle 5 aspect of the Complaint – 10 May 2002
  7. The Radioworks’ Response to the Authority – 15 May 2002
  8. The Yates’ Comments on The RadioWorks’ Letter – 21 May 2002
  9. The Authority’s Letter to The RadioWorks Seeking Further Information – 31 May 2002
  10. The RadioWorks’ Reply to the Authority – 11 June 2002