There was a lot written in the media about the October 2012 agreement between the ACMA and Harbour Radio, the licensee of 2GB. The agreement means that 2GB will improve its processes and train its staff to promote better compliance with the ‘factual accuracy’ and ‘significant viewpoints’ obligations in the Commercial Radio Codes of Conduct.
Some dubbed this agreement an attack on free speech. Others questioned whether 2GB and its presenters should be obliged to present factual material accurately or be bound by these code provisions at all.
To help everyone make sense of the mass of words printed, spoken and blogged, here are some facts about how this all works.
The code obligations which the ACMA investigates are in codes developed by the industry. The rules are not created and imposed by the ACMA.
The ACMA’s role is to register the codes developed by industry—if the ACMA is satisfied that they contain appropriate community safeguards for the matters they deal with. Once the codes are registered, the ACMA is obliged to investigate complaints from the public where those complaints have been raised with the relevant broadcaster and a satisfactory response has not been received.
Shows presented by Mr Alan Jones and other 2GB presenters are clearly subject to the rules in the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice that apply to ‘current affairs programs’.
These shows fall squarely into the following codes definition of ‘current affairs programs’:
… a program a substantial purpose of which is to provide interviews, analysis, commentary or discussion, including open-line discussion with listeners, about current social, economic or political issues.
There is no obligation in the current Commercial Radio Codes of Practice to provide balanced coverage of current affairs. There is no regulation of opinion.
Current affairs radio broadcasters are obliged to:
The codes don’t insist on balanced coverage, nor does the ACMA. But, where an issue of public importance is controversial, a sense of the controversy must be conveyed to listeners.
The codes do not constrain any individual’s freedom of speech—apart from restrictions placed on hate speech and indecent material.
The ACMA is not the new arbiter of truth on climate change or any other matter.
The ‘accuracy’ obligation in the Commercial Radio Codes is to:
… use reasonable efforts to ensure that factual material is reasonably supportable as being accurate.
The ACMA doesn’t judge whether something is true or not—just the adequacy of efforts to make sure it’s reasonably supportable.
Most ACMA breach findings result in an agreement to change processes or undertake staff training.
The most common result of all ACMA code breach findings is ‘agreed measures’. This means that an agreement is reached between a broadcaster and the ACMA that the broadcaster will take certain steps. The agreement between the ACMA and Harbour Radio was one such agreement.
From the ACMA’s point of view, the measures agreed to by Harbour Radio in this case were well adapted to dealing with the breaches found. We commend Harbour Radio for the way it approached its code compliance review.