BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Whaanga and Aotearoa National Maori Radio - 1997-016

Members
  • J M Potter (Chair)
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
  • A Martin
Dated
Complainant
  • Piripi Whaanga
Number
1997-016


Summary

An angry and obscene talkback interchange was broadcast by Aotearoa National Maori

Radio on 14 October 1996 at about 2.00am. The broadcast was carried by a number of

Maori radio stations, among them Te Upoko o Te Ika (Wellington).

Piripi Whaanga complained to Aotearoa National Maori Radio that the exchange, which

contained a prolonged outburst of abusive obscenities on the part of a talkback caller,

breached broadcasting standards and was unprofessional conduct on the part of the

broadcaster.

In its response, Aotearoa National Maori Radio advised that it had dealt with the

complaint immediately by suspending the host and seeking from him an explanation as

to why the call was not dumped. It appeared, the station advised, that an equipment

fault had possibly prevented the host from dumping the call or switching to another

line. That had now been remedied by the installation of new equipment and the host

had been reinstated. Dissatisfied with the action taken, Mr Whaanga referred the

complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989.

For the reasons given below, the Authority upholds the complaint that the action taken

by Aotearoa National Maori Radio, having upheld the complaint, was insufficient. In

view of the obscene and extremely abusive nature of the broadcast, the Authority orders

Aotearoa National Maori Radio to pay to the Crown the sum of $5000.00 by way of

costs and to broadcast an apology and a summary of this decision.


Decision

The members of the Authority have listened to a tape of the item complained about and

have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its practice, the

Authority determines the complaint without a formal hearing.

During a talkback programme broadcast by Aotearoa National Maori Radio the host

(Hori Bennett, known as Papa Ruru) and a caller became involved in an abusive and

obscene interchange at about 2.00am on 14 October 1996. The broadcast was relayed

to a number of iwi stations, including Te Upoko o Te Ika (Wellington).

Piripi Whaanga, a Maori broadcaster and Station Manager of Te Upoko o Te Ika,

complained to Aotearoa National Maori Radio that the broadcast was a breach of

broadcasting standards and unprofessional. In his view, once the caller began to

swear, the host should have cut him off and apologised. He also believed that the host

could have terminated the call before the swearing got to air. Mr Whaanga advised

Aotearoa Radio that Te Upoko o Te Ika would no longer take the overnight show and

that reconsideration of that decision would depend on the steps Aotearoa Radio's

management would take to safeguard listeners.

In its response, the station advised that it had suspended the host, pending an

explanation and investigation into the incident. It reported that the host blamed an

equipment fault which apparently prevented him from dumping the call or switching to

another line. Aotearoa Radio confirmed that there had been an intermittent fault in the

telephone unit and that another of its hosts reported a similar problem. A decision was

made to bear with the fault in the interim because the studio was due for replacement.

The station concluded that although the host did have other options available to

minimise the damage, it was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. It advised

that the studio had been replaced, the host censured and formally warned, and that any

repeat of such an incident would result in dismissal. It expressed its regret, adding that

it had already unreservedly apologised to its listeners.

Mr Whaanga referred the complaint to the Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting

Act 1989 because he was dissatisfied with the action taken by the station. In his view,

the host was remiss in not taking any remedial action, and there was not an adequate

explanation for his behaviour. Mr Whaanga believed that listeners were put at risk of a

repeat performance because the host was still on air.

The Authority expresses in the strongest possible terms its consternation at what it

considers an appalling breach of standards in this broadcast. The obscene invective,

which seemed to have been encouraged, if not provoked, by the host, lasted for several

minutes and contained language which it has never before encountered on a radio

broadcast. Indeed, the Authority records, the breach is the most serious breach of good

taste that has ever come before it for decision. The language was so offensive that the

Authority chooses to depart from its normal practice, and not quote directly from the

offending broadcast in this decision.

The Authority now examines the action taken by the station. It notes first that it is

apparent that the station did not keep a tape of the programme and that the tape provided

to the Authority was one supplied by Te Upoko o Te Ika. The Authority reminds

Aotearoa National Maori Radio of its obligations under the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice, in particular standards R35 and R36, which read:

R35  For a period of 35 days after broadcast, radio stations shall hold a

recording of all talkback and open line programmes and a copy or tape

of news and current affairs items.

R36  When a formal or serious complaint is made about a programme,

stations must ensure as far as practicable that all relevant recordings,

scripts or other programme information are held until the complaint

has been finally dealt with. Such recordings to be made available to

the Broadcasting Standards Authority on written request.

Next, the Authority reviews the action taken by the broadcaster, once the matter had

been drawn to its attention. It notes that the host was suspended, pending an

investigation and explanation. The explanation provided by the host indicated that the

lapse occurred because of an equipment failure, and the host, being given the benefit of

the doubt, was reinstated. He was also censured and formally warned, and told that a

repeat of the incident would result in dismissal. Aotearoa Radio issued an apology on

air to listeners and unreservedly apologised to Te Upoko o Te Ika and its listeners. It

also advised that it had taken steps to prevent a repeat of the incident on technical

grounds and had also taken steps to prevent a repeat of the incident as far as personnel

at the station were concerned.

Having listened to the broadcast in its context, the Authority is unconvinced that the

host was experiencing difficulties with equipment at the station and was therefore

unable to cut the caller off. However, even if the equipment had malfunctioned, the

Authority points out that there were other remedial measures which an experienced

broadcaster could have taken to bring the broadcast to an end and to distance himself

from the caller's obscene tirade. For instance, in addition to ensuring that the call

ceased to broadcast on air, he could have apologised, or explained to listeners at the end

of the call that the matter was out of his control. Instead, to the next caller he described

the interchange as "the biggest laugh that's been on the air tonight" and as "a bloody

hard case laugh". He also admitted to the next caller that he had goaded the previous

caller, saying "I shouldn't have done it", but that what set the previous caller off was

that he (the host) told him to stop shouting.

In the Authority's opinion, there was no evidence that the host was attempting to

minimise the damage done by the call or to discourage the caller from continuing with

his outburst. There were several occasions when the host made comments to the effect

"Have you finished?" which, to the Authority, implies that the host was able to

terminate the call if he wished to. In addition, the Authority considers the host's

responses to the caller were inflammatory and contributed to the length and gravity of

the outburst.

On the basis of the clear inferences in the tape as to the host's actions, and in view of

the extreme seriousness of the breach, the Authority concludes that the action taken by

Aotearoa National Maori Radio, having upheld the complaint, was insufficient. It notes

that the station recognised that a breach had occurred and made some effort to deal with

it, but considers that its action failed to recognise the gravity of the breach. It also

advises Aotearoa Radio that its failure to retain a tape of the programme, and the fact

that the programme was relayed to more than one iwi station, are matters which are

taken into account when it assesses the severity of the order it will impose. The

Authority bears in mind, as mitigating factors, the hour of the broadcast, and the fact

that this is the first complaint it has dealt with about Aotearoa Radio. Were it not for

these factors, the Authority would consider something closer to the maximum penalty it

is able to impose.

By the Broadcasting Amendment Act 1996, the Authority was given the power to order

a broadcaster to pay costs to the Crown in an amount of up to $5000. Given that this is

the worst breach of broadcasting standards encountered by the Authority, but taking

into account the mitigating factors, it decides to impose the maximum costs of $5000.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority upholds the complaint that the

action taken by Aotearoa National Maori Radio, having upheld the

complaint about the broadcast on 14 October 1996, is insufficient.


Order

Pursuant to s.16(4) of the Broadcasting Act 1989 (as amended in 1996),

the Authority orders Aotearoa National Maori Radio to pay $5000 to the

Crown by way of costs within one month of the date of this decision.


In addition, the Authority orders that the station broadcast on three

occasions a summary of this decision and an apology, approved by the

Authority, and at a time agreed to by the Authority, within one month of

the date of this decision.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Judith Potter
Chairperson
27 February 1997

Appendix


Piripi Whaanga's Formal Complaint to Aotearoa National Maori Radio –
17 October 1996

Piripi Whaanga of Wellington complained to Aotearoa National Maori Radio about an

exchange on its talkback programme at about 2.00am on 14 October 1996. During the

call the caller swore abusively and the host failed to take any remedial action, he said.

In Mr Whaanga's opinion, the host should have cut the caller off and apologised once

he started to swear. He suggested that had the dump button been operated in time, the

swearing would never have got to air.

Mr Whaanga, who is Station Manager at Te Upoko o Te Ika, advised that as a

consequence of the broadcasting lapse, that station would no longer take Aotearoa's

talkback show. Reconsideration of that decision would depend on how Aotearoa

National Maori Radio responded to the complaint.

Aotearoa National Maori Radio's Response to the Complaint –
30 October 1996

The station advised Mr Whaanga that the complaint was acted on immediately and the

host was suspended pending an explanation and investigation.

It advised that the host explained that an equipment fault prevented him from dumping

the call or switching to another line. The station pointed out that maintenance of the

studio in use at the time had been run down, pending the installation of a new studio at

the end of October. That studio was now installed.

Further, the station reported that its technicians had confirmed there had been a fault in

the telephone unit, although they did not believe it was likely for the unit to jam on.

One of the other hosts supported the host's explanation as he too had experienced an

occasion when the line had jammed on and he was unable to release it to take callers on

other lines. He had reported the matter to the Programme Director but because the

studio was due for replacement, a decision was made to bear with it in the interim.

Accordingly, the station advised, it had brought forward the timing for the upgrade of

the studio. It had also decided that the host should have the benefit of the doubt as far

as his actions were concerned, even though it recognised he had other options which

would have minimised the damage. It concluded:

The studio is replaced, [the host] has been censured and formally warned that

there is no excuse for a repeat of this incident and any such repeat will result in

dismissal. [The host] has been advised that the particular caller is not under any

circumstances allowed on air in future. Aotearoa Radio regrets the incident and

has already issued an on-air apology to listeners. We unreservedly apologise to

Te Reo Irirangi o Te Upoko o Te Ika and its listeners over the incident.


Aotearoa Radio has taken immediate steps to prevent a repeat of the incident on

technical grounds and has taken all available steps to prevent a repeat of the

incident as far as personnel are concerned.

Mr Whaanga's Referral to the Authority – 13 November 1996

Dissatisfied with Aotearoa Radio's response to the complaint, Mr Whaanga referred it

to the Broadcasting Standards Authority under s.8(1)(a) of the Broadcasting Act 1989.

He sent the Authority a copy of Aotearoa National Maori Radio's response on 13

November 1996. On 17 December he wrote that he was not satisfied with the

explanation given by the station.

In his view, the host could have pulled down the desk fader and cut off the call long

before the 3 minutes plus duration of the call. He maintained that blaming the caller

was no defence for allowing him to carry on as long as he did.

Aotearoa National Maori Radio's Response to the Authority – 6 January
1997

In its response, the station noted that while the referral had come from Mr Whaanga in

his private capacity, the formal complaint was from the station Te Upoko o te Ika.

Aotearoa Radio advised that it fully investigated the complaint by Te Upoko o te Ika as

soon as the matter was brought to its attention. It admitted some responsibility for the

incident, initially caused by a studio malfunction, but also recognised that the host had

to accept some responsibility for not pursuing other options to dump the call.

The station advised that it immediately brought forward the timetable for replacing the

studio and disciplined the host involved. It considered that in the circumstances it had

done everything possible to address the situation. Further, the station had been

replaced, apologies issued and the host disciplined. It added:

Existing employment law does not allow for "instant" dismissals on disciplinary

grounds, even though Mr Whaanga is wanting this action.

Aotearoa Radio deeply regrets the incident. We believe that we have taken

reasonable and sufficient action to deal with the matter.


Mr Whaanga's Final Comment – 22 January 1997

In a brief final comment, Mr Whaanga emphasised first that his complaint had been

written in his personal capacity as an experienced Maori broadcaster and NZQA

accredited Maori broadcast trainer.

He repeated that the host was remiss in not taking effective action at the time of the

obscene call. In Mr Whaanga's view, the host should have dumped the call. He did

not accept Aotearoa Radio's explanation for the host's behaviour, and considered

listeners were still placed at risk of a repeat performance.