Whaanga and Aotearoa National Maori Radio - 1997-016
- J M Potter (Chair)
- R McLeod
- L M Loates
- A Martin
- Piripi Whaanga
ProgrammeAotearoa Radio Talkback
BroadcasterAotearoa National Maori Radio
Channel/StationAotearoa National Maori Radio
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
27 February 1997
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
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.