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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES COMMITTEE
Self[hyphen]regulation in the information and communication industries
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES COMMITTEE
Self-regulation in the information and communication industries
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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES COMMITTEE
- Committee front matter
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Content WindowINFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES COMMITTEE - 22/04/98 - Self[hyphen]regulation in the information and communication industries
CHAIR —I welcome the witnesses from FARB. The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public but you may at any time request that your evidence, part of your evidence or answers to specific questions be given in camera, which means in private, and the committee will consider any such request.
The committee has before it submission No. 43 dated 14 April 1998. Are there any alterations or additions that you would like to make to the submission at this stage?
Mr Carroll —Not at this stage.
CHAIR —Is it the wish of the committee that the submission be published? There being no objection, it is so ordered.
I now invite you to speak to the committee and at the conclusion of your remarks we will ask you questions. Mr Buschman, I realise you have not got long with us, so perhaps if my colleagues have any questions to you they should ask them first.
Mr Buschman —Thank you.
CHAIR —Do you have any comments you want to make before we start?
Mr Carroll —Senator, at this stage no. I think the submission that we sent to you is fairly straightforward, and we would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.
Senator QUIRKE —Obviously, you blokes do not employ helicopters to fly over people's houses either in the short or the long term, but there are issues of privacy that do come up which affect radio broadcasting as well. If a public figure has transgressed or is perceived to have transgressed or is in the public eye for whatever reason, how do you handle immediate members of the family? Do you seek to interview immediate members of the family? Do you seek to incorporate them in the story, or do you have a hands-off policy—you deal simply with the individual who is in the public eye?
Mr Carroll —As an overall observation, as we pointed out in the submission, radio is a far less intrusive media. We do not have to put forward the in-depth coverage that print and television go into. It is generally providing the basic facts of a news event for a news bulletin. Mr Buschman may be able to elaborate from the operational point of view.
—Yes, thank you. From an operational perspective, it is a reality that most radio broadcasters have actually reduced their journalistic staff and it is actually more
common practice for us to take our information from the wires. There are fewer and fewer journalists on the road. It is really not something that is a major issue in the radio industry.
Senator QUIRKE —What about a murder trial that has just been concluded, the verdict has come down and no-one is really satisfied because such is the nature of a tragedy like that that you never can satisfy people? Certainly, I have seen radio journalists who have sought to interview members of the victim's family about the adequacy of the sentence and those sorts of things. Do you reckon that is fair game?
Mr Buschman —I think it is safe to say that commonsense and a bit of judicial input from the news director should stop that sort of activity. I do not think it is something you can legislate against, but commonsense tends to prevail, I would like to think.
Mr Carroll —Certainly, in some cases, the relatives of the victim are quite forthcoming in their comments. I think on those occasions it is warranted, but there are occasions when it can be intrusive and should not be put forward.
CHAIR —I am interested in the pooling issue on radio. What often seems to happen on radio, as you said Mr Buschman, is that you take a lot of material from the cables—from AAP and other news sources. There has been a suggestion that that exposes radio to a greater difficulty in relation to accuracy—that, because of the timing of the medium, it is not always possible to check somebody else's story when you pull it off a wire service. What mechanism do you have to ensure that a story that goes to air, perhaps through the Macquarie network that might have come from AAP or even an international news wire, is in fact accurate?
Mr Buschman —I would like to think it would always be a reflection of the quality of the news director. Where staff might have been reduced across the board in most radio stations in news terms, the one thing that most companies have not eliminated is having quality people, albeit fewer of them, who can still decipher, and rarely are risks taken. It would be quite a ridiculous scenario for us to simply take whatever is on the wires and put it straight to air, for all sorts of reasons. We still have a team of people who monitor exactly what is going through the wires and check on stories.
CHAIR —I think my old cadet counsellor used to say, `When in doubt, leave it out.'
Mr Carroll —Yes.
Mr Buschman —Exactly.
CHAIR —When your staff come on—you have mentioned that they are very experienced—how do you ensure that they know and understand the codes of practice that apply to radio?
—In our instance, all of our journalists are given the codes when they start with the company so they can clearly understand it. If there is any confusion, they can always speak to management. We quite often refer matters back to FARB and, in fact, we
have FARB often in our company, coming in to actually lecture announcers and news people on specific areas if we believe there is anything lacking in their experience base.
CHAIR —I am interested to explore this question of competitiveness. I think radio has always had the immediacy over television without the pictures. In relation to events like Port Arthur and Thredbo, with the live crosses that went on with those sorts of issues and the coverage of them, radio, to some extent, lost that slightly competitive edge of being able to give the immediate cross without the picture because television had the pictures and the immediate cross. Does that mean that radio journalists are under more pressure now to sort of push the envelope in terms of the competitive edge in getting a story first—getting the news flash?
Mr Buschman —I guess radio has always marketed itself on immediacy and the fact that it is one of its greatest assets. Again, I believe it comes back to the quality of the people who we have operating across the industry. There are always going to be fools who slip through the net, but in the main I think the lack of complaints in this area would vindicate that we rarely slip up in that area.
CHAIR —What sort of complaints would Macquarie get? Could you tell us a little about your complaints mechanism in the company and also numbers and types of complaints?
Mr Buschman —In the realm of news and current, very few. In fact, I do not recall a complaint regarding our news service. But, having said that, we have just recently reopened the Macquarie National Newsroom. It has been operating for four weeks. We have been taking a combined news service from ARN for the last couple of years since I have been involved with the company. As far as general complaints go, the procedure is quite straightforward. If I am in the building, I take the call myself. I not only am the chief executive of the company but actually run both stations—2CH and 2GB. I will always try to speak with the complaining person on the telephone because I find that is the most effective way of dealing with the problem. In the main, we deal with those problems.
By the nature of talk-back radio, it is there to stimulate debate. The types of complaints rarely relate to the codes. They tend to relate more to people taking umbrage to statements that are made by our on-air announcers—whether it is political or something that they disagree with—or comments that people disagree with that our talk-back callers have actually made. It usually comes down to a simple difference of opinion. Personally, I find that, taking the time to talk through these issues, it is rare that anyone actually ever takes any further action.
Mr Carroll —It is generally the rule that the station manager or a program manager who is a senior executive in the station actually handles the calls themselves and will take the complaint directly and, in many cases, can resolve the issue over the phone without the need to go to written complaints from the complainant and a reply. Quite often, it can be dealt with on the spot.
—If that is not the case, then it is certainly my experience in this network and another previous network that I was with that we then ask the person to write a detailed letter to us if they do not feel we have been able to placate their concern. That is then
responded to. It is not unusual for me not to have heard the piece to which they are referring. The first course of action, if I cannot resolve it on the spot, is to call for a transcript or a cassette of the offending piece and listen to it. If the complaint is still on the basis that we are happy to be talking on the telephone, I will certainly call the person back and discuss the fact that I agree or disagree with it. If the complaint comes in writing, we will respond to it in writing. If that is unresolved, then obviously we advise them to take it to the ABA if they are not comfortable with our response.
CHAIR —What is Macquarie's view about making clear to their listening audience that there is this complaints mechanism and that FARB exists and does have a process? Do you have community service announcements?
Mr Buschman —No, we do not; in fact, to my knowledge, no radio broadcaster does that. FARB do not really have a role to play in the complaints arena other than having set the codes. The issue must be dealt with by the station and then through the ABA if no satisfaction has been amicably agreed.
CHAIR —Going back to the issue of immediacy and the opportunity for radio to actually break stories—news flashes and so on—it has often been the case in the past that a death, for example, through accident or some other unfortunate means, has been broken on radio, and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that that often means the family of that person hears it first on radio. What sort of procedures do you have in place to ensure that that sort of thing does not unnecessarily offend the immediate family of somebody affected like that?
Mr Buschman —We have an absolutely clear policy that, regardless of whether we have a journalist on site or not, unless the names have been officially released by the police we will not release it.
CHAIR —No matter who it is?
Mr Buschman —No matter who it is.
CHAIR —Would that be the policy of all radio stations or would that just be Macquarie? Are you aware that other stations have that view?
Mr Buschman —I would have to defer to Graeme for that. It is certainly our view.
Mr Carroll —I would think that that would be the general policy. That is my understanding, although I do not have an intimate knowledge of the daily operational policies of all the stations. As a former journalist myself, in years gone by that has pretty much been the case. It would be in exceptional circumstances if it were any different.
Senator CALVERT —In your submission you note that your code of conduct is under review; is there any particular reason why you are reviewing it if it is as good as you think it is?
—The codes are there to be reviewed every three or four years to remain contemporary. We have had discussions with the ABA and it was considered that we needed
to move to review the codes and to see whether there were any areas which needed to be addressed.
Senator CALVERT —You do mention complaints there in particular being under review; is there any particular reason for that? Have you had too many or not enough?
Mr Carroll —No. We decided that one of the areas where there was some criticism, in some circumstances, was delays in response. The Broadcasting Services Act allows for a period of 60 days to elapse before a complaint can be taken to the ABA. We considered, in consultation with the ABA, that for some of the complaints they have received that period is too long, although in the majority I would expect that most of those complaints would probably have been dealt with within about two or three weeks or, in a lot of cases, over the phone. But we are moving to tighten that procedure to bring it down to 30 days when you have a written complaint.
Senator CALVERT —So that is the sort of change you are looking at?
Mr Carroll —Yes.
Senator CALVERT —I had a quick look through this and I note in your code of practice 1 you talk about:
A licensee shall not broadcast language which would offend to a substantial degree the contemporary standards of decency held by the audience of the station.
Does that apply to music as well?
Mr Carroll —Yes, it applies to music stations and all stations. Radio is much more tightly focused in terms of demographics. You will have a radio station targeting, say, an 18 to 39 age group and they are fully aware, through their own research, of the level of discussion or language which a certain category or demographic of listener will accept and they deal with that appropriately. It is very rare that they get complaints based on those issues. In my experience with looking back over the codes and the complaints and the responses that we have had from the station those sorts of issues have been very little.
Senator CALVERT —Some of these complaints obviously do not get through to you up here but down in Tasmania I have had at least three constituents come in with imported CDs that have been played on radio and that are just absolute filth quite frankly. In fact one of them I presented to the community standards committee. I do not know whether they tabled it or what they did with it.
CHAIR —One would hope they did not play it.
Senator CALVERT —Well, yes, it was pretty foul. I just wonder what happens in the case of something like that. Do you have the power to tell the stations to take this sort of material off air or is it up to their own standards?
Mr Carroll —Under our code the responsibility rests with the station. Was it a commercial station they were referring to?
Senator CALVERT —No, it was not a commercial station. It was one that has got the same initials, three times. I have had similar complaints about language on that station as well but nothing seems to happen.
Mr Carroll —I cannot speak for—
Senator CALVERT —So you are only talking about commercial radio?
Mr Carroll —We are speaking purely about commercial radio.
Senator CALVERT —I have not got any further questions at this point of time.
CHAIR —Mr Buschman, where a breach of a code is shown up by your scrutiny of either a transcript or a tape, be it something that has been taken off a wire service or something that has been initiated through talkback or whatever, what is the process that you then put in place?
Mr Buschman —I would speak with the announcer concerned. Of course, it depends on the gravity of the breach or if it is a clear breach. If I am at all confused I will always speak with FARB and have a discussion with them about whether my understanding of the particular code is relevant and correct. If we had breached a code we would sit down with the announcer and talk to them about it. If it was a major breach we would either suspend or remove the announcer, I would think, depending on whether it was a first offence.
CHAIR —I am thinking of a situation where perhaps contempt of court or something really serious might be involved. This is long before the DPP might have got involved. If you pick up something as serious as that, what would you then do in your stations?
Mr Buschman —We would naturally speak with the announcer. If they did not understand that they had made this massive breach we would take them off air to protect ourselves. If they understood that it was a mistake, I guess it would depend on whether it was in relation to a complaint or whether it was something we picked up ourselves. I am not sure what body we would actually take that to if we realised we had done something and no-one had actually picked it up. But we would certainly act to protect ourselves by taking that announcer or that journalist off the air.
CHAIR —If the person who initially rang and complained was not happy with the way you dealt with that and it went on to FARB, what sanctions could FARB impose on the station, if any, in its own adjudication of an issue like that?
—FARB as such does not adjudicate on any of the complaints that are made to stations. With regard to an issue such as contempt or a defamation complaint, it is generally the rule that the stations will immediately get in contact with our own legal advisers and deal with it appropriately in those circles. That has been the experience that I
have had. We will get inquiries at FARB about those sorts of issues but, generally, they will defer immediately to their legal advisers because of the seriousness of the issue.
CHAIR —You mentioned in your submission that you had just over 7,000 complaints between May 1993 and September 1997. What would be the general nature of those complaints? Do they fit into particular categories that you could outline for us?
Mr Carroll —Generally, talk and discussion, because of its controversial nature—
CHAIR —You mean talkback?
Mr Carroll —Talkback radio or some talkback on music programs as well—there is a limited amount of that—generally generates the most number of complaints and that is by virtue of its controversial nature. There are other complaints. We do get some about advertising and there are general miscellaneous complaints that people will make in relation to the codes as well. Radio stations get an enormous amount of general comment and often that is very much related to, `I don't like the views of a certain announcer' or `I don't like that announcer'. But, in relation to the codes, it is that talk and discussion area that generally generates the most. Often that is because the complainant does not agree with the views being expressed by the announcer.
CHAIR —There is increasing empirical evidence that radio and television and, to a similar extent, the print media now have views not news. Would there be a category of complaint that would relate to bias that would come in? Would there be a number of those complaints that would fit into that category of bias rather than, `I disagree with what he said,' because it happens to concern a community issue?
Mr Carroll —I will have to defer to Mr Buschman on that issue, because what we receive at FARB is simply a tabulation of the number of complaints in the various areas. We are not supplied with the actual detailed complaint that is made to the station, which they keep as a record. So I would imagine there may well be.
CHAIR —Perhaps I could just add a little bit more. The suggestion has been that reporters have become commentators.
Mr Buschman —Yes, I have heard that suggestion. I must admit I personally categorise it as the same thing. Bias is that people just simply disagree with an announcer's view or another caller's view on a particular topic. We are accused, from time to time, of being biased politically or in any fashion. Again, it comes down to basically everyone's personal opinion. When you have very opinionated people listening and you have opinionated people speaking as announcers and journalists, yes, you can come into conflict.
—On your own radio stations, during the time when you are aware that families might be sitting down eating with the radio on, or children might be listening, do you have guidelines for announcers to be aware of when covering stories of a certain kind—for example, particularly violent stories of the day or ongoing stories about royal commissions into paedophilia, or those sorts of issues? Do you, in any way, modify or take into account
the listening audience at particular times in covering those sorts of stories, either in talkback or in news?
Mr Buschman —I would like to think, on the industry's behalf, that they certain would. In our instance, both of our stations target people 40-plus. We basically have no audience under 40.
CHAIR —They have grandchildren, though.
Mr Buschman —Yes, I know, absolutely. By the nature of our two stations, we do not have it. It is not an issue that has ever been raised. Certainly 2CH is a very sedate, relaxing station, and we believe that our breakfast announcers on 2GB, whether it be Clive Robertson who has recently departed that slot, or Graham Richardson doing breakfast now, are very mindful of those sorts of issues.
CHAIR —Thank you. I am conscious of the time. Do any of my colleagues have any further questions for Mr Buschman?
Senator HARRADINE —I imagine the language referred to in code of practice No. 1 not only would be what is normally called swearing, but also would be language used to relate certain things that would be inappropriate for that to be done in such a style. You have got here:
A licensee shall not broadcast a program which may:
(a) incite, encourage or present for their own sake violence or brutality;
What about language that is dealing with matters of pornography or sex or whatever? Does that provision here cover that and if so—
CHAIR —Senator Harradine, can I just ask, did you want Mr Buschman to respond, because I think we could—
Senator HARRADINE —No, I am sorry, this is for FARB.
CHAIR —Thank you very much for coming in, Mr Buschman. If you want to leave now, that would be fine.
Mr Carroll —Sorry, 1.2 you are referring to?
Senator HARRADINE —Yes, taste and decency when those matters are being considered by submitters to our committee. They deal generally in the area of sex and violence, except when, obviously, we are talking about the questions of taste and decency. You have got violence covered here, it appears.
Mr Carroll —Without the visual impact of television and print—
—Yes, I understand.
Mr Carroll —It is a discussion issue which is dealt with, perhaps, in talkback radio. Some of the stations do run late-night programs where they deal with some of those sex issues, but I am not aware of any major level of complaints about those stations because of the fact that the stations that run those sorts of programs are targeting a demographic that is interested in those issues and can openly discuss those issues without breaching those guidelines.
Senator HARRADINE —I am not talking about questions of discussion; I am talking about dealing with the matter in a titillatory sense or in a sense which would mediate in the minds of the listeners, say, a calloused or manipulative orientation towards women.
Mr Carroll —That certainly would not be tolerated. We do have specific guidelines which are in addition to the codes which deal with issues of portrayal of women.
Senator HARRADINE —Yes, I have seen those, but it does not seem to cover that sort of thing.
Mr Carroll —I would expect that all the stations would be quite mindful of those issues.
Senator HARRADINE —Do you go and speak to the various stations and hold seminars and so on?
Mr Carroll —We do from time to time talk to the stations about issues relating to the codes when they have a particular problem, but these problems in the area you are referring to have not emerged as a problem issue.
Senator HARRADINE —What about if there were a situation where a commercial broadcasting station were to play that sort of record that was referred to by a senator a moment ago?
Mr Carroll —I cannot speak for the stations directly, but if it was played it would be on a late-night program.
Senator HARRADINE —How is that covered in here, in your codes of practice?
Mr Carroll —Those sorts of issues are also covered under point 1.2. The language referred to is in any sort of programming, and programming can be music, advertising or discussion.
Senator CALVERT —It was language and sexual connotations.
Mr Carroll —Quite often I have heard commercial radio stations play those sorts of records with the language bleeped out.
—Sometimes it is indistinguishable, too, with the raucous noise that goes on behind it. As I said, I do not listen to that kind of music anyway, but I have had quite a few parents that have come to my office and in fact taken the time to bring in a copy of one of them.
Mr Carroll —As I say, I cannot speak directly for the stations as to what type of music they are playing, but I would expect that they would adhere to the codes in doing that anyway.
Senator HARRADINE —What code covers that?
Mr Carroll —Code 1.2 relating to language.
Senator HARRADINE —No, I am not only talking about language. The senator mentioned sexual connotations and so on involved. If you have parents that are concerned about that, what is the code? Where do they complain and under what code?
Mr Carroll —Under code 1.2. That covers all language broadcast by the station.
Senator HARRADINE —That gets back, I suppose, to the sort of question I asked initially. Code 1.2 then covers not only the swear-type language but also the sexual connotations?
Mr Carroll —Yes, it does.
Senator HARRADINE —Thank you.
Senator CALVERT —I just want to say that I note there were 12 breaches of codes of practice out of something like 7,000 complaints. Is there any particular one thing that stands out in those breaches of the code, or does it vary?
Mr Carroll —If I can recall correctly, I think one of the issues there was the length of time in handling the complaints, and that is the very issue that we are dealing with in the review of the codes that is currently under way.
CHAIR —Thank you very much, Mr Carroll. I appreciate your patience this morning. I hope you found the evidence from the previous witness as interesting as we did.
Mr Carroll —Yes, thank you.