The Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that Harbour Radio Pty Ltd, licensee of 2GB, breached the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice 2013 (the Codes).
The ACMA’s investigation concerned the accuracy of statements made by 2GB presenter, Mr Alan Jones, about the rate of global warming in a report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC).
The investigation found that the licensee did not use reasonable efforts to ensure that factual statements made by Mr Jones were reasonably supportable as being accurate.
The ACMA also found that a purported correction later in the program by Mr Jones was not adequate and appropriate in all the circumstances and so did not cure the breach.
The segment was aired on 24 September 2013 on the Alan Jones Breakfast Show and, while the investigation report was finalised last year, publication was delayed after Harbour Radio challenged in the Federal Court the ACMA’s power to investigate and its actual findings.
The Federal Court’s 23 April 2015 ruling included confirmation that the ACMA has an independent discretion to commence ‘own motion’ investigations under section 170 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992, and affirmed the ACMA’s approach to factual accuracy and corrections under the Codes.
The ACMA expects that the licensee (indeed all commercial radio licensees) will be guided by the Federal Court’s endorsement of the ACMA’s views on what is an ‘adequate and appropriate’ correction ‘in all the circumstances’.
For more information please see the Backgrounder below or contact: Emma Rossi, Media Manager, (02) 9334 7719 and 0434 652 063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The regulatory framework: broadcasting content regulation
Under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (BSA), Australian radio and television licensees have primary responsibility for ensuring that the material they broadcast reflects community standards. Many aspects of program content are governed by codes of practice developed by industry groups representing the various Australian broadcasting sectors. The ACMA registers codes (other than those of the national broadcasters, the ABC and SBS) once it is satisfied that broadcasters have undertaken public consultation and the codes contain appropriate community safeguards.
The ACMA may:
- investigate complaints about compliance with the BSA or licence conditions
- investigate complaints about compliance with code obligations, where the complainant has complained to the licensee and is dissatisfied with its response
- commence an 'own motion' investigation into compliance with the BSA, licence conditions or code obligations.
Read additional information about, and copies of, the ACMA’s published broadcasting investigations reports.
Responding to breaches
Where there has been a breach of a code of practice, the ACMA may:
The ACMA cannot ‘fine’ or ‘prosecute’ a broadcaster for breaching a code, or direct it to do any particular thing (such as broadcast a report of the ACMA’s findings).
In this investigation:
- 2GB conceded that the comments broadcast were inaccurate but submitted they were based on an article from mainstream media (The Australian) and that the inaccuracy was corrected by Mr Jones within two hours of the initial comments.
- The ACMA noted that the article had been corrected in The Australian three days prior to the broadcast and, in any event, there was a range of credible material that threw doubt on the original article from The Australian.
- Although Mr Jones purported to later correct his comments, the ‘correction’ was not adequate and appropriate in all the circumstances.
- While the ‘correction’ was flagged as a correction and made promptly, it lacked clarity. In particular, the ‘correction’:
- included additional material which was confusing and undermined the significance of the correction
- was not clearly linked to the incorrect statements.
Judicial matters related to this investigation
In October 2014, the licensee commenced proceedings in the Federal Court challenging decisions made by the ACMA in relation to this investigation, and another set of proceedings regarding a separate investigation concerning statements made by Mr Jones regarding Wagners Investments Pty Ltd in November and December 2013 (cases NSD 1086 and NSD 1104/2014, respectively).
The Court’s decision primarily relates to the ACMA’s power to commence ‘own motion’ investigations under section 170 of the BSA.
Section 170 confers a general discretion to investigate matters that are relevant to the ACMA’s functions and powers, including, as found in these proceedings, matters arising from complaints made under sections 147 and 148 of the BSA.
As the investigation concerning statements made by Mr Jones regarding Wagners Investments Pty Ltd is ongoing, the ACMA will not be making further comment on that investigation until such time as it is finalised.