«COMMERCIAL RADIO INQUIRY Report of the Australian Broadcasting Authority Hearing into Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Limited February 2000 Sydney ISBN 0 642 ...»
Mr Laws submits there was nothing misleading about the manner in which the material was presented.952 Further that his listeners must have known of the association between him and the RTF when he conducted the interviews and made his comments. For example, Mr Laws referred repeatedly to ‘the truckies we call ‘Today’s Truckies’,’ to the Road Transport Forum and to ‘Today’s Truckies’ and in his interview with Carl Scully. No listener to that interview could think that Mr Laws was a ‘disinterested’ commentator upon these issues, and would put such value on his comments as the listener thought fit, knowing of Mr Laws’ affinity with trucking interests.953 2UE’s Submission to the Hearing In addition to the general submissions made by 2UE, 2UE also made the following
submission in relation to this broadcast:
It is the Minister who introduces the road transport context to the interview, and discusses the benefits of certain matters for the road transport industry. The fact that Laws has an agreement with the RTF is not a relevant available fact for this interview, as the comments are generally made by the Federal Minister.954 ATA.0004.0661_01; ATA.0003.0395 See also Exhibit 49, paragraph 224.
Submission made by Mr John Laws – Australian Trucking Association (Formerly Known As The Road Transport Forum), paragraph 11.
Submission made by 2UE - John Laws Broadcasts - Breach of Clause 2.2(d) of Code of Practice 2, D6 The Panel’s Findings The Panel finds that the broadcast of this interview is a current affairs program. It purports to concern matters focussing on political and economic issues of relevance to the community.
The Panel finds the available fact of Mr Laws’ commercial arrangement with the Australian Trucking Association was withheld during both broadcasts. The existence of Mr Laws’ commercial arrangement with the Australian Trucking Association was not disclosed in the broadcast.
The Panel finds the available fact was relevant because:
♦ Mr Laws supported and advocated the Australian Trucking Association’s position regarding the reduction in the diesel fuel excise. For instance, Mr Laws says ‘it certainly gives them a whole lot more room to be competitive, doesn’t it, and that’s the important thing’;955 ♦ the broadcast was favourable to Australian Trucking Association. Mr Laws says ‘if the efficiency of Today’s Truckies is improved and they run better then everything runs better’;956 and ♦ Mr Laws used the questions provided by the Australian Trucking Association.
The Panel notes 2UE and Mr Laws’ submissions that Mr Laws had been publicly associated with the Australian Trucking Association (through public appearances, blockade interventions, musical compilations, product placement and a press release) over some years, and that this must condition listeners’ expectations regarding his disinterestedness or otherwise.
The Panel is concerned here with the presentation of current affairs programs. To the extent that these broadcasts purport to represent the views or opinions of Mr Laws on matters of current affairs, listeners should be entitled to assume, in the absence of appropriate disclosure, that he is not receiving financial compensation to express those views. Listeners are entitled to assume that the public appearances or blockade interventions of Mr Laws are undertaken due to personal conviction, rather than financial obligations, to the Australian Trucking Association. Mr Laws’ public appearances and blockade interventions for the Australian Trucking Association are not, in the Panel’s view sufficient disclosure of a commercial relationship between him and the Australian Trucking Association.
Similarly, Mr Laws’ involvement in musical compilations and product placement, do not, in the Panel’s view, provide sufficient information to enable listeners to discern that Mr Laws had a commercial agreement with the Australian Trucking Association.
Further, the Panel notes that the press release issued by the Australian Trucking Association was issued on 20 July 1999, after the Media Watch program on 12 July 1999. While the Panel notes Mr Edmonds’ evidence that the Australian Trucking Association never sought to keep secret the existence of their commercial arrangement with Mr Laws,957 the Panel is of the view that there has not been sufficient disclosure to ensure that listeners would not be misled in the context of this broadcast.
ATA.0004.0661_01; ATA.0003.0395 ATA.0004.0661_01; ATA.0003.0395 Transcript, Mr Edmonds, p. 173.
The Panel therefore does not accept the submissions of 2UE and Mr Laws in this regard.
The Panel finds that, in the presentation of a current affairs program, Mr Laws presented material in a misleading manner by withholding a relevant available fact, namely the existence of a commercial relationship between himself and the Australian Trucking Association.
The Panel finds 2UE to be in breach of clause 2.2(d) of the Codes.
NRMA Limited The Panel notes that Mr Laws was aware of the existence of his commercial relationship with NRMA Limited (see ‘Mr Laws’ Agreements and His On-Air Conduct‘ on page 47).
WOLLONGONG INSURANCE CLAIMSMaterial Broadcast by Mr Laws
On 30 October 1998 Mr Laws broadcast the following:
We’ve got to be fair to the NRMA. You’ve got to praise their generosity in paying claims by people affected by floods in New South Wales, in Wollongong. They really have taken a bit of beating, but there were plenty of other insurance companies involved, I mean we should have been climbing into everybody.
The NRMA could have refused some of those payments because legally, they weren’t liable.
And they weren’t liable. I mean legally that’s it. But the NRMA, smart organisation, well some smart people in it anyway. And certainly its smart enough and compassionate enough, to take a more human approach and pay the claims.
So, another 127 flood victims will receive what are known as ex-gratia payments, of a couple of million dollars. That takes the NRMA payout to about $25 million. Which is big isn’t it?
Now of course the pressure will come from the other flood victims.
Protesters will try and convince the GIO, I suppose, to meet its Wollongong claims as well and you can bet the other insurance companies will also be targeted. But I have to say, that the thing that bothers me about it was that the poor old NRMA being the first to do the right thing, seem to be the ones that got all the flak.
Another difficulty is what happens to victims of floods in New South Wales, in places like Bathurst and Nyngan, Narrabri, Coffs Harbour. I mean they’ll want compensation as well, even if their policies are invalid. So there’s going to be more problems down the road.
Two things come out of this mess. Insurance companies need to get a more realistic interpretation of what is storm water damage and what is flood damage and the people who are buying insurance policies, need to have a better understanding. I mean, perhaps they need to have some kind of educational process in place.
The other point is that residents do have to look out for themselves. They’ve got to check the policies and see exactly what is covered. This time flood victims will get some compensation, but it might not happen again, because it need not happen again because legally, NRMA didn’t have to do it. But they did it.
So, if you do live in an area that is susceptible to flooding, be very, very careful and the sensible thing to do, obviously, is simply to check the policy.958 Mr Laws’ Submission to the Hearing
Mr Laws made the following submission in relation to this broadcast:
The John Laws Morning Show was not a current affairs program;
To the extent Mr Laws presented matters of fact were wholly true as presented, and did not cease to be wholly true in the context of the sponsorship agreement with the NRMA;
To the extent Mr Laws made comments in which he expressed opinions, each of those opinions was genuinely held by him and reasonably based upon information within his personal knowledge. Counsel Assisting had not submitted otherwise, nor have they submitted the existence and terms of the NRMA sponsorship agreement meant that Mr Laws did not genuinely hold his opinion, or that they were not reasonably based.
All that is said is that the mere non-disclosure of the sponsorship agreement necessarily meant all this material was presented in a misleading manner.
To this, Mr Laws submits, first, the conclusion does not follow from the premise and secondly, in any event, the existence of the commercial arrangement between Mr Laws and the NRMA must have been known to his listeners, on the evidence.959 2UE’s Submission to the Hearing In addition to the general submissions made by 2UE, 2UE also made the following
submissions in relation to this broadcast:
There are particular features of the broadcast and the announcer’s position which would have dispelled, or limited the scope and nature of the assumption of disinterestedness.
a) Williams gave unchallenged evidence that it was an ‘inescapable conclusion’ from telephone responses that the public was aware that Laws was conducting a massive advertising campaign for the NRMA.960
b) Laws had been undertaking pre-recorded commercials for the NRMA which were broadcast on a number of commercial radio stations since about January 1997.961
c) Williams notes at paragraph 9 of his statement that on occasions Laws has referred to the NRMA as a ‘sponsor’ of his programme.962 NRMA.0002.0191 Submissions made by Mr John Laws– NRMA, p. 5.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 496.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 464.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 486.
The evidence of Laws is that he made comments about the NRMA from time to time because he considered the comments to be true, informative and helpful to his listeners and not because he was paid to or was contractually required to say or to make those comments.
Comment relating to the NRMA was only put to air after both Laws and his producer had exercised their judgments as to whether the information would be properly informative and entertaining to listeners.963 Williams noted his understanding that the information for possible broadcast was sent to the producer of the John Laws Morning Show, rather than to John Laws direct. Review and approval for broadcast by a person with no commercial relationship removes or reduces any perceived need for disclosure Williams acknowledged that 2UE, as opposed to Laws, would have a role to play in any decision on the editorial content of the program.964 The Panel’s Findings The Panel finds that this broadcast is a current affairs program. It purports to concern matters focussing on social, political and economic issues of relevance to the community.
The Panel finds the available fact of Mr Laws’ contractual agreement with NRMA was withheld. The existence of Mr Laws’ agreement with NRMA was not disclosed in the broadcast.
The Panel finds the available fact was relevant because:
♦ the broadcast was favourable to the NRMA. Mr Laws states, ‘You’ve got to praise their generosity’ and ‘certainly it’s smart enough and compassionate enough, to take a more human approach and pay the claims’;965 and ♦ Mr Laws defended NRMA saying, ‘They really have taken a bit of beating, but there were plenty of other insurance companies involved. I mean we should have been climbing into everybody’ and ‘the thing that bothers me about it was that the poor old NRMA being the first to do the right thing, seem to be the ones that got all the flak’.966 The Panel notes 2UE’s submission that as Mr Williams gave evidence it was an ‘inescapable conclusion’ from telephone responses that Mr Laws was conducting a massive advertising campaign for the NRMA, this should limit or dispel the assumption of disinterestedness.
The Panel does not accept 2UE’s submission because this broadcast is a current affairs program, and not part of a ‘massive advertising campaign’. The Panel is of the view that it is irrelevant to this broadcast whether a ‘massive advertising campaign’ was being conducted in relation to other broadcasts.
The Panel notes 2UE’s submission that Mr Laws had been undertaking pre-recorded commercials for the NRMA, broadcast since 1997, and that this limited or dispelled any assumption of disinterestedness. The Panel does not accept this submission. Clause 3.1(a) provides that advertisements must not be presented as news programs or other programs. To the extent that the presentation of any pre-recorded advertisement is capable of causing See Exhibit 47, paragraph 170.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 472; Submission made by 2UE - John Laws Broadcasts - Breach of Clause 2.2(d) of Code of Practice 2, E3 NRMA.0002.0191 NRMA.0002.0191 confusion in listeners’ minds with the editorial comment of Mr Laws, the Panel would be concerned that those pre-recorded advertisements may have breached clause 3.1(a).
The Panel is concerned here with the presentation of current affairs programs. To the extent that these broadcasts purport to represent the views or opinions of Mr Laws on matters of current affairs, listeners should be entitled to assume, in the absence of appropriate disclosure, that he is not receiving financial compensation to express those views.
The Panel notes the submission of 2UE that material was selected as ‘properly informative and entertaining’ by Mr Laws and Ms Brownlow, Mr Laws’ program producer. Whether the material may be characterised as ‘properly informative and entertaining’ is irrelevant in this context. The broadcast was favourable to the NRMA. The existence of the commercial agreement was relevant, but there was no disclosure of it.
The Panel notes 2UE’s submission that the need for disclosure is reduced or removed because material was sent by the NRMA to Ms Brownlow, rather than to Mr Laws directly.
The Panel does not accept this submission. Whether material was sent directly to Mr Laws is irrelevant in this context.
The Panel therefore does not accept the submission of 2UE in this regard.
The Panel finds that, in the presentation of a current affairs program, Mr Laws presented material in a misleading manner by withholding a relevant available fact, namely the existence of a commercial relationship between himself and NRMA Limited.