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Three Complaints Against Radio Stations Upheld

The Board of the BCC considered and/or adjudicated upon 37 complaints at a recent meeting. Three of these complaints were found to be frivolous and vexatious under Section 24(14) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001 and were therefore closed without further investigation. Six complaints were deferred to the next meeting of the Board for further consideration. Of the remaining 28, four were upheld – three of these were concerned with radio programmes and included complaints against FM104’s late-night ‘Adrian Kennedy Phone Show’ on the grounds of taste & decency; Cork 96FM & 103FM’s ‘Opinion Line’ on the grounds of privacy; and Spin 1038’s afternoon show ‘Spin Talk’ on the grounds of taste & decency.

The complaint against Adrian Kennedy’s Phone Show relates to a sexually explicit discussion and the complainant found the programme extremely offensive, calling the broadcast ‘way out of line’ and unsuitable for her two teenage daughters and her concern is on behalf of all teenagers being influenced by what they hear.
In response to the complaint FM104 say that the Adrian Kennedy Phone Show features a sex and relationship presenter, Sophie Hegarty.
“This part of the phone show is called ‘sex talk’ and it has been part of the show for some eight months now,” the station says. “Each night one topic relating to relationships or sex is dealt with. It should be noted that every Adrian Kennedy Phone Show is preceded with a warning that the show may contain some strong language and that the material is of an adult nature.”
The station goes on to say that the topics discussed are usually relationship-type topics. “However from time to time the topics discussed can be of a more sexual nature,” they continue. “Listeners who are offended by such content do have a choice in the matter and can elect to listen to another station. This is why the station gives a warning at the beginning of and at intervals throughout the show.”
This is the only complaint ever made in relation to this particular broadcast.
Despite the station’s claims the complaint was upheld by the BCC. The Commission was of the view that FM104 infringed Section 24(2)(b)(taste & decency). The manner in which the sexual content of the programme was presented and dealt with was considered by the BCC to be offensive. The Commission noted that the station did broadcast warnings that the content of the programme was of an adult nature and in their summary also noted that they are aware that addressing sexual issues is important and is appropriate content for a programme broadcast late in the evening. “However, the tone and manner in which this programme dealt with sexual issues was considered to be flippant and gratuitous,” the summary continues. “Airing warnings does not circumvent the broadcaster’s editorial responsibility. The programme was sensationalist in style and offensive.”

The complaint against Cork stations 96/103FM was made by Mr Richard McCarthy under Section 24(2)(c) (privacy of an individual) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 and refers to ‘The Opinion Line’ – a show presented by Neil Prenderville. The complaint concerns the presenter’s decision to put McCarthy on-air without his permission. The item being discussed on the show was in connection with long delays for motorists trying to leave the multi-storey car park where McCarthy works. He states that he received a ‘phone call from a man who claimed he was a motorist who had been delayed for a long period of time when leaving the car park on 1st July’. Road works and a broken barrier caused delays to traffic leaving the car park on that day. After some time, a colleague working in the car park informed McCarthy that he was live on-air. This was the first McCarthy knew of the broadcast and he ended the call immediately. McCarthy states that the caller did not identify himself nor did he inform him the call was going out live on-air. He was never asked if he was prepared to have his response broadcast live. McCarthy believes this was a serious breach of his rights and a serious invasion of privacy. He says he felt humiliated, embarrassed and upset at the way he was treated. Many of the people he comes into contact with on a daily basis heard the broadcast and mentioned this to him. He found this highly embarrassing. McCarthy complains that Cork’s 96/103FM acted in an unethical and underhand manner. He also states that he received a call earlier that morning from an employee of Cork’s 96/103FM regarding this topic. He pointed out to her that employees of Cork City Council were not permitted to discuss work/policy matters with the press. He informed her she would have to contact City Hall. Despite being aware of this, the call was still made. McCarthy believes the broadcast breached the Broadcasting Act, 2001 under privacy of the individual.
In response the station states that the lead up to this phone call was as a result of calls received at the station regarding long delays by motorists exiting the car park at Paul Street on Thursday 1st July. In following up on this story, researchers at the station tried to obtain a response from Cork City Council, the operator of the car park. However, it was the following Monday before they received a response. Cork City Council’s response was that the delays were not caused by the car park itself but were due to traffic problems on the adjoining quays. They also stated that the car park personnel had opened the car park barrier to speed things up. While this was being aired, numerous calls were received at the station stating that the second barrier was not working and this caused delays. At this point, the researcher tried to contact the City Council again to get a response but without success. Presenter, Neil Prenderville, then decided to contact the car park directly as he could not understand the ongoing difficulty in receiving an accurate statement from the City Council. Cork’s 96/103FM admit Mr Prenderville did telephone the car park directly and spoke on-air to an individual. However, this person remained unnamed at all times. The station further claim the call was a genuine attempt to clarify the reason for the delays for a large number of listeners who contacted the show. Normal procedure was departed from on this occasion due to the trivial nature of the item and the genuine desire to get a simple answer to a simple question.
In summary, the BCC say they upheld the complaint as they were of the view that Cork’s 96/103FM did infringe Section 24(c)(privacy of an individual). The presenter posed as a member of the public who had been caught up in the delays in getting out of a car park on 1st July and broadcast live, surreptitiously, the subsequent discussion with the complainant who did not have the authority to speak on behalf of his employer. The BCC note that the broadcaster had been instructed that they should contact City Hall for comment and not the car park staff. Therefore the station were aware that the car park staff were not in a position to speak on behalf of the Council. The Commission were of the opinion that Prenderville dealt with this matter in an unfair and deceitful manner and in so doing, infringed the rights of McCarthy.

The complaint made against Spin 1038’s ‘Spin Talk’ was under Section 24(2)(b)(taste & decency) of the Broadcasting Act 2001. Every Friday Spin Talk deals with sex issues. The station does advise that parental guidance may be necessary. The complainant states that this is not always possible with young teenagers listening to radio. On the day in question the presenters, Jack and Ali, were discussing ‘hand jobs’. They read out 10 different ways of giving a hand job. The complainant called the item ‘outrageous’ and points out that many teenagers listen to this programme, including her 13 year old.
Spin 1038 state in their response that the subject of the programme centered on male masturbation. The ‘Gender Agenda’ is a regular feature on Friday’s Spin Talk programme. This section is heavily promoted as a Sex & Relationship feature. Warning messages are consistently broadcast around this section, which alert listeners to an open and frank discussion on sex and sexuality. The feature was based around an interview with a sex and relationship expert, Melissa Ulto and also featured calls and text messages from the show’s listeners recounting their experiences. Although Spin 1038 accept masturbation is a taboo topic, many major studies by leading experts suggest that a very clear majority of males engage in masturbation. This makes it a common practice, but one which is rarely covered on radio. As a news and current affairs show, Spin Talk has a brief to challenge boundaries and break down traditional taboos. On occasion, this requires the programme to cover topics that more traditional broadcasters would avoid at any time of the day. Spin 1038 state it was not their intention to offend and their coverage of similar items tends to be scheduled within the Friday segment of the show – which is clearly and repeatedly flagged as dealing with sex and relationship issues. They apologise for giving offence but feel they do offer adequate warnings and advice during the programme.
The BCC was of the view that Spin 1038 did infringe Section 24(2)(a)(taste & decency) as the programme contained an explicit discussion on masturbation which was dealt with in a gratuitous manner. The BCC felt that the broadcast was in poor taste, particularly given the time of day of the broadcast and also given the quite cynical presentation of the sexual content and the inappropriate time of broadcast.

A further 24 complaints were rejected.