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«COMMERCIAL RADIO INQUIRY Report of the Australian Broadcasting Authority Hearing into Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Limited February 2000 Sydney ISBN 0 642 ...»

-- [ Page 53 ] --

MR WHITLAM: Abs… I mean, personal philosophy and the philosophy of the NRMA is that, you know, we’re passionate about providing good service to our customers, and it’s these occasions when you find you need an insurance company.

MR LAWS: Yeah. What’s the biggest obstacle to getting the work done quickly – tradesmen?

MR WHITLAM: Yeah. I mean, for cars for example, it’s not such a big problem because the car’s either a right-off and you’d be amazed how many are right-offs with the hail damage, or you can drive it around. If you can drive it around, pending the…

–  –  –

MR WHITLAM: … panel beater’s, you know, schedule. I mean, we’ve got a car that’s been severely damaged and it won’t be fixed for a couple of month but we can drive it around.

Houses are much more difficult. You can’t drive a house to Newcastle and get it fixed with a, you know, panel beater up there.

MR LAWS: No. That’s true. That’s true.

MR WHITLAM: And there aren’t… for some sort of tiling for example, which is exotic and people are proud of their tiling and slate for example, it’s not just available even if there were tilers. So, you’d have to… that’s being imported. Then in other cases where you have more common and garden tiles, the tiles are available but the tilers are flat out, and so you have to have some sort of emergency repair pending the logistical problem being solved.

MR LAWS: Yeah, tell me this. The repairs that you people are involved with, are they being done in any order of priority according to damage or according to need or according to circumstance or age or anything?

MR WHITLAM: Anything that’s an emergency we, and obviously the emergency services, I might say, takes priority. But we… you’d be surprised. We door-knocked, the NRMA doorknocked more than a thousand homes that we knew were insured by us, and we procured more than a hundred and fifty new claims. So, people are being pretty good about the fact that they know that they have a claim, but they’re not standing in the way of the logistical problem that we all have.

MR LAWS: Yeah. So, elderly people, and people who are more vulnerable, are they being moved to the top of the list?

MR WHITLAM: Yeah, of course, yeah.

–  –  –

MR WHITLAM: Absolutely MR LAWS: Is it true that you’re getting something like five hundred new claims every week?

MR WHITLAM: We’ve estimated … I’m not sure of the exact number. I think that is the number and I think it’s … we’re processing … look, I’m actually not sure. I think we’re lodging … they’re lodging about five hundred a week, and we’re dealing with about twentyfive hundred a week ‘case there’s a back log.

MR LAWS: So, you’ve got two and a half thousand items coming through the mail?

MR WHITLAM: Yeah. You can’t imagine how, you know, how many people… we’ve brought people in. The NRMA has subsidiaries in Western Australia and South Australia we’ve been… brought people in from South Australia and Western Australia…

–  –  –

MR WHITLAM: … we’ve brought them in from Victoria and Queensland. We’ve got hundreds of people working on this, and that’s as it should be. We’re trying to ensure that, you know, if you will, a legendary service that we have in road service, everyone knows it to be wonderful and value for money, is just as good with insurance.

MR LAWS: Yeah. Well, it’s good to talk to you. I’m surprised (laughs) you’ve got time to talk to anybody with all this going on. But the point that I wanted to make to appease those people who are concerned that it’s not being done as quickly as it can. It would be impossible to do it any quicker because of the availability of product, and because of the availability of labour.

MR WHITLAM: That’s correct, that’s absolutely correct. And you have to establish some priorities and those … and older people … people at risk. Emergencies obviously have to take priority, but it will unfortunately … it will take months to work this thing through.

MR LAWS: Yeah. But not because of slowness on anybody’s behalf, and I imagine all the insurance companies are doing their very best.

MR WHITLAM: I’m sure they’re doing it… trying as hard as we’re trying.

–  –  –

MR WHITLAM: But, you know, you can only get so many troops or skilled troops to do skilled jobs.

MR LAWS: Yeah. Okay. So long as we have an understanding of that. I think it’s very important because, I mean, hysteria isn’t going to do much good this time, and if people are led to believe that it could be done quicker, that’s not very satisfactory for anybody, and to have you tell us that you’re doing your best.

Thirty thousand cars, nine thousand buildings, two and a half thousand items every week in the mail. I mean, we all have to have an understanding of the difficulties, and as you say, the logistics involved. And if there isn’t the product, and there isn’t the labour, not much you can do.

MR WHITLAM: That’s right.

–  –  –

MR LAWS: Bye. Nicholas Whitlam, who is the president of the NRMA, telling the truth about it, and that’s the truth. I mean, they’re doing it as fast as they can. If there isn’t the product, if product simply isn’t available, then there’s not a great deal you can do about that.

And if there’s not labour available, there’s not much you can do about that either and you can’t force people to come from another state to settle in Sydney and do the job when they have commitments of their own in their home states and home towns.975 NRMA.0002.0161 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.976 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.977

b) Laws had been undertaking pre-recorded commercials for the NRMA which were broadcast on a number of commercial radio stations since about January 1997.978

c) Williams notes at paragraph 9 of his statement that on occasions Laws has referred to the NRMA as a ‘sponsor’ of his programme.979 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.980 Submissions made by Mr John Laws– NRMA, p. 5.

Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 496.

Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 464.

Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 486.

See Exhibit 47, paragraph 170.

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.981 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 agreed with the comments made by Mr Whitlam and advocates the NRMA’s position. Mr Laws states ‘but the point that I wanted to make to appease those people who are concerned that it’s not being done as quickly as it can. It would be impossible to do it any quicker because of the availability of product, and because of the availability of labour’;982 and ♦ Mr Laws defended the NRMA. Mr Laws stated ‘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.’983 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 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 Transcript, Mr Williams, p. 472; Submission made by 2UE - John Laws Broadcasts - Breach of Clause 2.2(d) of Code of Practice 2, E9 NRMA.0002.0161 NRMA.0002.0161 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.

Foxtel Management Pty Limited The Panel notes that Mr Laws was aware of the existence of his commercial relationship with Foxtel Management Pty Limited (see ‘Mr Laws’ Agreements and His On-Air Conduct‘ on page 47).



Material Provided to Mr Laws The text appears to have come from Foxtel Management Pty Ltd.984 It is dated March 1998,

is entitled ‘Notes for John Laws on Re-transmission of Free-to-Air TV on Cable’ and reads:

The Federal Government said yesterday it had decided to stop cable television companies from re-broadcasting over cable the signals from the commercial TV networks and the ABC and SBS.

There are more than 450,000 homes around Australia that subscribe to cable television, so there is going to be a lot of people wondering why the Government has decided to do this.

The cable TV companies re-broadcast the signals from the networks as a service for their customers, and they don’t charge for this part of the cable service.

–  –  –

And it’s a good thing too. If you’ve ever had bad reception from your aerial, the cable fixes that.

The cable companies do this job without tampering with the networks’ signals, and they put the channels in exactly the same spot as they appear on regular TV.

–  –  –

It’s really about making things easier and more convenient for people to watch their TV, and it seems clear to me that the cable companies provide a good service here.

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