«COMMERCIAL RADIO INQUIRY Report of the Australian Broadcasting Authority Hearing into Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Limited February 2000 Sydney ISBN 0 642 ...»
The Panel finds 2UE to be in breach of clause 2.2(d) of the Codes.
INTERVIEW OF MR WHITLAM, 22 FEBRUARY 1999 Material Broadcast by Mr Laws
On 22 February 1999, Mr Laws broadcast the following:
MR LAWS: For our New South Wales and ACT listeners, I was talking earlier this morning about the NRMA card and benefits program which is about to start and I didn’t have full detail of it and I said I’d try and get some details of the other savings that could be made and I thought probably the best way to do it is to talk to the boss. President of the NRMA, Nick Whitlam on the line. Morning, Nick.
MR WHITLAM: Morning, John.
MR LAWS: This is a very good thing, isn’t it?
MR WHITLAM: Yeah, there’s no gimmicks or points to acquire or anything like that, you just use your NRMA card and get discounts at all sorts of interesting and exciting places.
MR LAWS: Well, I covered a few interesting and exciting places this morning, but not too many. But we were talking about the hiring of video, is that sort of thing included on this?
MR WHITLAM: Yeah, yeah, Video Ezy comes to mind, I think that’s the only video – although I’m sure it will work in such a way that other video shops will want to get in the system.
MR LAWS: Yeah. So, it’s not just things associated with motoring?
MR WHITLAM: No, there are a number of motoring – obvious motoring things, you know, car spare parts, and driving lessons, for example.
MR LAWS: Oh, that’s very good.
MR WHITLAM: Tyres, Bob Jane and Bridgestone and Beaurepaires Tools and the like at Repco. A lot of motoring things but the NRMA is more than motoring, these days.
MR LAWS: Well, it certainly is. And this is free, so when you become a member, or if you are a member, you automatically get the card.
MR WHITLAM: That’s right. That’s right. We’re actually creating a new look card, it will be a plastic card that all members will get over the next four months. But the old cardboard card works right now, just as the new plastic card will, for these benefits and the benefits program.
MR LAWS: Okay, so when will the NRMA members start to get the new plastic card? Over the next three month period?
MR WHITLAM: Yeah, it will be rolled out over the next four months and the reason we’re producing a new card, plastic card, is that you can put it in your wallet so much easier to use, frankly, on a daily basis for this sort of activity.
This benefits in the first instance but the card will become smarter and smarter and you’ll be able to use it probably as a plastic purse to cross the Harbour Bridge or pay tolls on the roadways and things like that, if you wish.
MR LAWS: So, this is really just the beginning?
MR WHITLAM: Yep MR LAWS: Pretty good. I’m just looking, here, at a further list, tyres, spare parts, motel accommodation, you can go to the Zoo – take your kids to the Zoo. Dubbo Zoo is included.
MR WHITLAM: Discounts there MR LAWS: Pretty good, isn’t it?
MR WHITLAM: It pays to belong.
MR LAWS: Well, you’ve always said that, though, Nick.
MR WHITLAM: That’s right. In fact, an average family – I mean, it costs $46 a year to be a member of the NRMA and you get road service and everything else for that, wonderful stuff.
MR LAWS: Yeah.
MR WHITLAM: But an average family, but using this card, if that’s what they wish to do, can get savings and discounts easily to the value of $300 a year.
MR LAWS: Big savings, isn’t it?
MR WHITLAM: Yep.
MR LAWS: Big saving. Well that’s terrific, good on you, I hope it works well, we’ll keep an eye on it, we’ll keep talking about it because it’s quite free to people who are already members of the NRMA and, of course, it’s another incentive for others to join, isn’t it.
MR LAWS: Bye. President of the NRMA in New South Wales, and that’s for our ACT and New South Wales listeners, Nick Whitlam telling you about this new benefit card, benefit program. But I’m looking further here, you can go to the Imax Theatre and get a discount.
Good deal, it doesn’t cost you any more, either.
Anyway, we’ll give you further details tomorrow.967 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.968 2UE’s submissions to the inquiry 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.969 NRMA.0002.0154 Submissions made by Mr John Laws– NRMA, p. 5.
b) Laws had been undertaking pre-recorded commercials for the NRMA which were broadcast on a number of commercial radio stations since about January 1997.970
c) Williams notes at paragraph 9 of his statement that on occasions Laws has referred to the NRMA as a ‘sponsor’ of his programme.971 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.972 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.973 The Panel’s Findings The Panel finds that this broadcast is a current affairs program. It purports to concern matters focussing on social 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 praised the NRMA card saying, ‘This is a very good thing’, and ‘Well that’s terrific, good on you’.974 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) Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 496.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 464.
Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 486.
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.0002.0154 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 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.
The Panel finds 2UE to be in breach of clause 2.2(d) of the Codes.
INTERVIEW OF MR WHITLAM, 23 JUNE 1999 Material Broadcast by Mr Laws
On 23 June 1999 Mr Laws broadcast the following:
MR LAWS: I told you earlier about the problems still affecting houses in Sydney’s eastern and southern suburbs after that hail storm. The damage bill is a billion dollars. More than thirty thousand cars, nine thousand buildings are affected and they’re just the NRMA figures. And the man who knows the figures inside out is the president of the NRMA, Nicholas Whitlam, who’s on the line. Morning Nick.
MR WHITLAM: Morning, John.
MR LAWS: I couldn’t believe those figures, I really couldn’t believe it. I mean, how you fellas have got through it I have no idea.
MR WHITLAM: Well, it’s the largest natural disaster in Australia’s history in terms of value, which of course your translate it to value, that means people take a deep interest, obviously, in their cars and houses and they want to get them fixed.
MR LAWS: Yeah, and want to get them fixed quickly. There’s been a bit of hysterical behaviour about not enough being done quickly enough. But it would’ve been impossible to do it any quicker because there simply weren’t enough tradesmen available were there?
MR WHITLAM: Absolutely. The logistics is the problem. I mean… insurance companies of course want the things that they’re insuring to be repaired as quickly as possible if they need emergency work.
MR LAWS: Yeah MR WHITLAM: That is to say, you don’t want a roof leaking if the roof can be stopped leaking, so emergency services are encouraged. But what people want is for the permanent … refurbishment, if you will, and that’s a huge logistical problem.
MR LAWS: Yeah. Well, you know, I’ve heard all sorts of screams and yells about it and it’s awful, and I mean, we still have a problem in our house of getting things fixed but it’s something, as Winston Churchill would say, up with which you have to put, because there simply isn’t the trade … the tradesmen go around. And I imagine if we’ve been in touch with tilers or something in South Australia or Brisbane or Western Australia or wherever, they have commitments of their own.
They probably have families of their own and they probably don’t want to leave there and come to Sydney in order to fix these things because they’ve got jobs of their own to do.
MR WHITLAM: Yeah, a lot of tradesmen have come to Sydney from around the state, of course, obviously you’ve got to be licensed to do the work.
MR LAWS: Yeah MR WHITLAM: And you know they’ve left their families behind to get work, which was not… which is not available elsewhere, but of course if it is available they’re not going to be leaving home. And then you have all these other people who are supporting it, the emergency services… our people in insurance companies have been working day and night… MR LAWS: Yeah.
MR WHITLAM: … I’m very proud of them. But there are only so many tarpaulins to go around. We went out and bought a number of them, about a hundred thousand dollars worth of tarpaulins I think… MR LAWS: What, the NRMA did?
MR WHITLAM: Yeah.
MR LAWS: Did you really?
MR WHITLAM: And… you know, this temporary emergency service, but if you put in a claim… a housing claim, you’ll get a cheque within… it will be processed within forty-eight hours for example.
MR LAWS: Yeah. Well, you see, that’s the point, and that’s what people don’t understand.
That there’s no value to you or any insurance company for that matter, holding it up. I mean, the sooner you get it over and done with and out of the way the better I would think.