BSA Decisions Ngā Whakatau a te Mana Whanonga Kaipāho

All BSA's decisions on complaints 1990-present

Sawyers and Radio Pacific Ltd - 1995-053

Members
  • I W Gallaway (Chair)
  • W J Fraser
  • R McLeod
  • L M Loates
Dated
Complainant
  • Calum Sawyers
Number
1995-053
Broadcaster
Radio Pacific Ltd
Channel/Station
Radio Pacific # 5


Summary

Author Bryer Whitehead was interviewed by talkback host George Balani on Radio

Pacific on 16 and 17 February between 10.00am–12 noon. She advanced the thesis

that counselling can assist homosexuals change their sexual orientation.

Mr Sawyers complained to Radio Pacific Ltd that both programmes breached a

number of broadcasting standards. Included among the complaints were the points

that Ms Whitehead was not challenged sufficiently by the host, that she abused some

callers and that, after his call, he was cut off sarcastically. He alleged that the

programmes were unbalanced, breached the privacy of the callers and denigrated gay

people.

Arguing that it was explained that Ms Whitehead was presenting her own views, that

balance was achieved by the many callers who opposed Ms Whitehead and that only

the first names of the callers were used, Radio Pacific declined to uphold the

complaint. Dissatisfied with the broadcaster's response, Mr Sawyers referred his

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

Broadcasting Act 1989.

For the reasons below, the Authority declined to uphold the complaint.


Decision

The members have listened to lengthy extracts from the programmes complained

about and have read the correspondence (summarised in the Appendix). As is its

practice, the Authority has determined the complaint without a formal hearing.

Bryer Whitehead was the guest on the talkback show broadcast by Radio Pacific

between 10.00am–12.00 noon on 16 February. By telephone, she advanced the case

to host George Balani that homosexuality was a result of social conditioning and that a

change in sexual orientation was principally a matter of deciding to do so along with

the appropriate support. Following her comments over the telephone, the host took a

number of calls, some of which supported and some which contested Ms Whitehead's

perspective.

Between 10.00am and 12.00 noon on 17 February, Ms Whitehead was in the studio

and discussed her claims with the callers. Many of the callers disagreed with her and

she argued that her position was opposed by gay activists who were trying to

"hijack" the show.

Mr Sawyers complained to Radio Pacific about a number of matters:

1) He alleged that it was not made clear that Ms Whitehead was advancing her own

views as the host supported her and the callers who supported her.

2) Callers with opposing views, he argued, were accused unfairly of being gay

activists who were trying to hijack the show.

3) The host, he wrote, had allowed Ms Whitehead to avoid answering questions

about her credentials and scientific support.

4) When he had telephoned to ask some questions of Ms Whitehead, he had been

cut off sarcastically.

5) As a breach of privacy, he complained that Ms Whitehead had been allowed to

ask callers if they were gay.

6) When one caller, Joe, said that he was a counsellor, he was accused by Ms

Whitehead of not being a "proper counsellor" and was cut off before he had the

opportunity to respond.


Mr Sawyers said that these matters amounted to breaches of standards R9, R10, R11

and R12 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting Practice and could also have amounted to

breaches of standards R1, R4, R5 and R16. In addition he alleged that the programmes

contravened standard R14 in that they had encouraged discrimination of gays. Finally,

Mr Sawyers acknowledged that the host's later apology went some of the way to

correcting the breaches but that "Joe", Mr Kelleher, was entitled to a full apology.

In its response to the complaint, Radio Pacific dealt with a number of points.

1) It was made clear, it said, that Ms Whitehead, as the author of two books on the

matter, was advancing her own views. Moreover, the host had allowed speakers

on both sides of the debate "every opportunity to express their views".

2) Hijacking was not the issue, Radio Pacific wrote, but whether individuals were

given the opportunity to put their views. It argued that they were.

3) Radio Pacific did not specifically respond to this point.

4) After 4 minutes 20 seconds of Mr Sawyers' call to Ms Whitehead in which he

had asked a number of questions, the host had "brought the discussion to a

timely end".

5) Radio Pacific discussed the allegation of breach of privacy at some length. On

the basis that callers only gave their first name and that sexual preference -

which is not a matter which is offensive or objectionable - was relevant to the

discussion, Radio Pacific declined to uphold that aspect of the complaint.

6) With regard to Joe Kelleher, Radio Pacific pointed out that he was only

identified as "Joe" and while it acknowledged that he was cut short, his call was

similar to previous calls. Radio Pacific added that it had no knowledge about Mr

Kelleher's counselling qualifications and, it added, Ms Whitehead's comment

about them were an expression of opinion, not fact.


Radio Pacific then listed and summarised the callers on 17 February and declined to

uphold the complaint that the broadcasts involved a breach of standards R9, R11 and

R14. Standards R10 and R12, it maintained, were not applicable. In summarising the

complaint, Radio Pacific wrote:

What it comes down to is that this was a talkback programme in which opinions

were expressed, and strong opinions at that, by both Mrs Whitehead and the

callers. What is clear from listening to the tapes is that individuals were able to

express their opinions.


As for the apology, Radio Pacific said that the host, at a later date, had apologised to

people who had been offended by the programme.

When he referred his complaint to the Authority, Mr Sawyers repeated the details

contained in his complaint and added that he was identified by his full name in

contravention of the privacy standards. He acknowledged that Joe Kelleher did not

give his full name but he, like many others, had been identifiable by his voice.

In its report to the Authority, Radio Pacific insisted that the caller named "Joe" was

only referred to as "Joe" and was considered to be just another person who

telephoned, in the "cut and thrust" of commercial talkback radio, to express contrary

views to the person being interviewed.

The complainant alleged that the broadcast breached the following standards which

require broadcasters:

R9  To show balance, impartiality and fairness in dealing with political

matters, current affairs and all questions of a controversial nature, making

reasonable efforts to present significant points of view either in the same

programme or in other programmes within the period of current interest.

R10 To avoid the use of any deceptive programme practice which takes

advantage of the confidence listeners have in the integrity of broadcasting.

R11 To respect the privacy of the individual.

R12 To correct factual errors speedily and with similar prominence to the

offending broadcast or broadcasts.

R14 To avoid portraying people in a manner that encourages denigration of or

discrimination against any section of the community on account of gender,

race, age, disability, occupation status, sexual orientation or as the

consequence of legitimate expression of religious, cultural or political

beliefs. This requirement is not intended to prevent the broadcast of

material which is:

a) factual

b) the expression of serious opinion, or

c) in the legitimate use of humour or satire.


Radio Pacific considered that standards R10 and R12 were inapplicable and the

Authority agreed with that conclusion. The Authority has ruled that standard R10

(and its equivalent in the Television Code, G7) applies to deceptions involving

technical matters. As no such matters were raised in the present complaint, the

Authority decided that it was not in issue.

Talkback involves the expression of opinion. In many cases, the opinions advanced

are said to be based on fact. As was clearly apparent from the sessions in which Mrs

Whitehead's views were debated, her version of the "facts" was strongly disputed by

the callers. As opinions - not facts - were discussed, the Authority decided that there

could be no factual errors which required speedy correction in accordance with

standard R12.

The Authority then examined the six aspects of the complaint raised by Mr Sawyers

and Radio Pacific's response.

1) The Authority did not agree with the complainant when he alleged that it was

not made clear that Ms Whitehead was presenting her views. Although

appreciating that aspect of the complaint when, at times, it seemed that the host

was supporting her views rather than, as the broadcaster argued, chairing the

debate, the Authority decided that during the broadcasts it was clearly

understandable that Ms Whitehead was indeed advancing her own opinions.

2) The Authority noted Ms Whitehead's accusations that gay activists were trying

to hijack the show. However, rather than considering that to be a matter of

imbalance on the broadcaster's part by not actively challenging that comment,

the Authority was of the opinion that it reflected mainly on Ms Whitehead. In

other words, at the time when the remark was made the Authority considered

that it revealed intemperance on the part of the guest when she accused her

callers of bigotry.

3) Radio Pacific did not reply specifically to the aspect of the complaint that the

host had allowed Ms Whitehead to avoid answering questions about her

credentials and the scientific support for her views. While Ms Whitehead's

responses to the host's questions on these points were unsatisfactory, the

Authority decided that it did not amount to a breach of the standards for two

reasons. First, the evasiveness of her responses was apparent and reflected on

her, and secondly, some callers challenged her on some specific research, at

which time she was required to try to deal with their questions.

4) As for the ending of the complainant's call to Ms Whitehead, the Authority did

not consider that it had involved sarcasm on the host's part.

5) The Authority considered thoroughly the aspect of the complaint which alleged

a breach of privacy when the guest asked callers whether they were gay. It

decided that it did not. Callers were known by their first name and they did not

need to answer the question about their sexual orientation. Nevertheless, it was

a question which was directly relevant to the topic being discussed and, in that

situation, was unlikely to be "highly offensive or objectionable" to a reasonable

person. That the information was sometimes used by Ms Whitehead to advance

her opinion about gay activists hijacking the show, the Authority considered,

reflected adversely on her rather than on the callers.

The complainant's reference to the use of his full name on-air arose in the

referral in response to Radio Pacific's incorrect statement in response to the

complaint that no one was identified by their full name. As it was an aspect of

the complaint which only arose for the first occasion in the referral, it was not a

matter which was within the Authority's jurisdiction when, under the

Broadcasting Act, it investigates and reviews the broadcaster's response to the

matters raised in the original complaint.

6) The final aspect of the complaint involved Ms Whitehead's comment that "Joe"

was not a proper counsellor but a gay activist intending to hijack the programme

and that she had not given him an opportunity to respond. As was apparent

from the complainant's final comment, many of "Joe's" friends and

acquaintances recognised his voice and considered Ms Whitehead's response to

him to be "definitely slanderous".


The Authority is not involved in allegations of defamation. Rather, it examined

the complaint to see whether it involved a breach of standard R9 – was the

broadcaster's response unbalanced, partial or unfair? If "Joe" had been the only

or an early caller who had responded to Ms Whitehead, when he was treated in

this way, the Authority would have agreed that Ms Whitehead's response

breached all three requirements in the standard.


However, "Joe's" call came towards the end of a two hour debate when Ms

Whitehead amid a few calls in support, had been challenged strongly on the

validity of her perspective and the use to which it had been put. Accordingly, at

that stage in the debate, the Authority considered that the guest's reaction did

not breach the standard but again reflected adversely on her.


The final aspect of the complaint was the allegation that the broadcast encouraged

denigration of or discrimination against gay people in contravention of standard R14.

The Authority declined to uphold this aspect because it considered that overall the

callers who opposed Ms Whitehead advanced a sufficiently reasoned case to put her

beliefs to the test so that the debate was fair. In the Authority's opinion, her obvious

antagonism towards what she described as "gay activists" detracted from both her

approach and the way it was advanced. Consequently, the Authority concluded, the

broadcast did not transgress standard R14.

 

For the above reasons, the Authority declines to uphold the complaint.


Signed for and on behalf of the Authority

 

Iain Gallaway
22 June 1995


Appendix

Mr Sawyers' Complaint to Radio Pacific Ltd - 15 March 1995

Mr Calum Sawyers of Wellington complained to Radio Pacific Ltd about the

interviews the talkback host (George Balani) had had with Bryer Whitehead on 16 and

17 February and the resultant talkback.

The host, he began, did not make clear that Ms Whitehead was presenting her own

views. Rather, he supported her views and those of callers who advanced anti-gay

views. When listeners expressed opposition to Ms Whitehead, Mr Sawyers added,

she accused them of being "hijacked by gay activists" and the host did not challenge

this remark. When the host had questioned Ms Whitehead and sought her credentials,

he had allowed her to evade the issue.

In response to his questions, Mr Sawyers wrote, the host cut him off sarcastically

before they were answered by Ms Whitehead. Other callers, in breach of

confidentiality, were asked by Ms Whitehead whether they were gay and, on one

occasion, that question was put by the host.

Mr Sawyers also complained that when Joe Kelleher was speaking he was accused by

Ms Whitehead of not being "a proper counsellor" and, before he had had the

opportunity to reply, he was cut off by the host. Mr Kelleher was thus unable to list

his extensive counselling qualifications.

Because the programme was not balanced, impartial or fair, and because it took

advantage of the listeners' confidence in the integrity of broadcasting, Mr Sawyers

stated that it breached the standards R9 and R10 of the Radio Code of Broadcasting

Practice. In addition it had contravened the privacy requirement in standard R11 -

when the guest asked callers whether they were gay or what their interest in the issue

was - and the obligation to correct factual errors in standard R12. Moreover, as it

denigrated gay people, it breached standard R14. Further, he maintained that

standards R1, R4, R5 and R15 could also have been breached.

Acknowledging the host's later apology to Mr Kelleher, Mr Sawyers said it went

only part way to correcting the breaches and that Mr Kelleher was entitled to a full

apology.

Radio Pacific's Response to the Formal Complaint - 30 March 1995

Radio Pacific reported that the host had interviewed Ms Whitehead by telephone on

16 February and it was followed by talkback. On the 17th, Mrs Whitehead was in the

studio. Both sessions went from 10.00am to 12 noon.

It was made clear, Radio Pacific began, that Bryer Whitehead was presenting her own

views as the author of two books which argued that counselling can assist

homosexuals change their sexual orientation. Radio Pacific's programme director (Mr

Brent Impey) explained:

Having listened to the programme, I believe that George Balani gave callers every

opportunity to express their views. His approach was more that of a chairman

of the debate rather than taking a particular position.

The director agreed that there were two references to the programme being "hijacked

by gay activists" and said it was followed, in the second programme, by 19 calls of

which 15 expressed a contrary view. He added:

Radio Pacific considers that "hijacking" is not the test but rather whether

individuals were given the right to express their own opinions. In our view they

were.

The host, the director continued, had encouraged calls to himself on the 16th and to

question Ms Whitehead on the 17th and he believed that encouraging debate was the

host's function.

As for the complainant's call to Ms Whitehead, the programme director noted that the

length of the call was 4 minutes 20 seconds in which Mr Sawyers had asked five

questions. He commented:

George Balani did not interfere in the exchange between yourself and Bryer

Whitehead and brought the discussion to a timely end. You had made a number

of points. Radio Pacific has no criticism of George Balani in this regard.

Noting that standard R11 requires the broadcaster to respect an individual's privacy,

the director said that at no stage was any individual identified and as the discussion

dealt with homosexuality, he argued that the caller's sexual preference was relevant to

the points they made. The director acknowledged that privacy was a difficult area

but, when the Authority's privacy principles were applied, he stated that the use

only of the caller's first name on air did not amount to a breach of privacy.

The director also observed that the disclosure of facts which were private had to be

"highly offensive and objectionable" to be in breach. A person's sexual preference, he

insisted, was not such in a debate about homosexuality. Moreover, it was in the

public interest in such a debate to ask callers their sexual preference. He concluded:

Accordingly, Radio Pacific does not uphold your claim in respect of Rule 11. It

does acknowledge however that this is a sensitive area and that talkback hosts

need to take particular care when issues of privacy are discussed.

Taking the reference to Joe Kelleher as being a reference to the person who was

identified as "Joe", the director agreed that he was cut short. Radio Pacific, he added,

had no knowledge of or response to comments about Mr Kelleher's qualifications.

Standard R12 requires broadcasters to correct factual errors speedily. As the

comments about Joe were opinion, he said the standard had not been contravened.

The director reported:

Having listened to the 4 hours of broadcast, George Balani allowed every point

of view to be expressed. He seldom interrupted the callers.

He then summarised the points made by the callers on 16 February. There were, he

said, a number of calls for and against the views of Ms Whitehead and the host had

allowed all to express their views. On the 17 February, he wrote, the callers had

presented a number of differing perspectives.

Standard R9 relates to balance, impartiality and fairness and, the director maintained:

Radio Pacific's obligation is to allow those significant points of view either in

the same programme or in other programmes within the period of current

interest. In this instance Radio Pacific believes that all significant points of view

were expressed.

Furthermore, other hosts on Radio Pacific had dealt with homosexuality and had

advanced a different point of view to that of Mr Balani. He referred specifically to

Father Felix Donnelly who had been a host for 16 years and whose views on

homosexuality were well known.

As there had been no deceptive programme practice used, the director said that

standard R10 had not been transgressed. The standard relating to denigration and

discrimination (R14) did not apply when serious opinions were expressed, as had

occurred in this instance. The director summarised.

Your complaint under these headings have been answered above. What it comes

down to is that this was a talkback programme in which opinions were

expressed, and strong opinions at that, by both Mrs Whitehead and the callers.

What is clear from listening to the tapes is that individuals were able to express

their opinions.

With regard to the host's later apology, the director said that he had been unable to

find the tape. Nevertheless, the host had told him that, because of the correspondence

he had received from gay men who had been offended, he had made a comment

apologising to people who had been offended.

Mr Sawyers' Complaint to the Broadcasting Standards Authority - 11 April

1995

Dissatisfied with Radio Pacific's decision, Mr Sawyers referred his complaint to the

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

He began by stating that it had never been made clear that Ms Whitehead was

presenting her own views. The host had supported her views and those of the callers

in support while cutting short the callers who opposed her. Moreover, both the host

and Ms Whitehead said that gay activists were "hijacking" the show. He continued:

If Radio Pacific are going to have a programme of this type they must expect a

lot of contrary calls, and allow them adequate time to develop what they are

saying. This was not done, and opponents of Whitehead were cut short many

times.

Persisting in his opinion that the host had not challenged Ms Whitehead's views

adequately, Mr Sawyers repeated that she had not answered his questions. The host

had cut him off in an "insulting and derogatory" way with a reference to 20 questions.

The callers in support of Ms Whitehead, he repeated, were allowed a longer time to

express their views.

As for privacy, he said he was asked if he was "Calum Sawyers" and others were

asked their full names. Such a practice, he maintained, breached the privacy standard.

Mr Sawyers explained that he, along with a number of other listeners, had recognised

"Joe" as Joe Kelleher and if Ms Whitehead did not know who he was, her comments

that he was not a proper counsellor deserved an immediate apology.

Maintaining that the host was biased, Mr Sawyers stated that the broadcast had

breached standards R1, R4, R5 and R15 as set out in his original letter. Whereas the

host's later apology went part of the way, a full apology to Mr Kelleher was justified.

Radio Pacific's Response to the Authority - 31 April 1995

Explaining that most of the points in the complaint were answered in his letter of 30

March, the director said that he wanted to add two additional matters.

First, the host's later apology did not refer to "Joe" specifically but to people who

might have been offended by the sessions involving Ms Whitehead.

Secondly, Radio Pacific did not accept because the complainant was able to identify

"Joe", that might have had an effect on his client base and for which an apology was

justified. The director wrote:

"Joe" was a talkback caller who phoned a programme to express contrary views

to the person being interviewed. The cut and thrust is part and parcel of

commercial talkback radio.

Mr Sawyers' Final Comment - 26 May 1995

In his final comment, Mr Sawyers said that he stood by all the points raised in his

original complaint. He stated that he had heard from others who also believed that the

slur against Joe Kelleher was slanderous and who felt that a public apology by Radio

Pacific was necessary.