ABA verdict on Byner’s FIVEaa cash for comments

The Australian Broadcasting Authority has found FIVEaa breached the commercial radio standards 15 times by failing to disclose Leon Byner’s commercial interests and will “seek undertakings” for increased monitoring to ensure the station “will continue to maintain its improved disclosure and compliance requirements”.

FIVEaa General Manager, Paul Bartlett, has told radioinfo:

“FIVEaa accepts the findings of the ABA released today in relation to Leon Byner and is pleased that this matter has now been concluded… [the station] has given the ABA full support and cooperation in its inquiries, and has implemented even further policies and procedures to ensure listeners are fully informed of the existence of commercial arrangements involving our announcers.”

The station breached the Broadcasting Services (Commercial Radio Current Affairs Disclosure) Standard 2000 (Disclosure Standard) on 12 occasions between 7 October and 18 December 2003, by “failing to cause a disclosure announcement to be broadcast when Leon Byner interviewed his personal sponsors on his program.”

The interviews were with employees of BUPA Australia Health Pty Ltd (Mutual Community) (four interviews); the Australian Hotels Association (SA) (three interviews); ETSA Utilities (two interviews) and Michael Harbison, Lord Mayor of Adelaide (three interviews).

The ABA found two further breaches of the Disclosure Standard by FIVEaa in that it failed to record on its commercial agreements register all the commercial agreements to which Leon Byner was a party and those that were disclosed did not include full particulars.

In addition, the ABA decided FIVEaa breached the Standard by failing to maintain an effective compliance program and to carry out an annual audit.

Acting ABA Chair, Lyn Maddock, says: “Permitting a radio presenter to enter into personal sponsorship agreements places particular obligations on a licensee. In these circumstances, a licensee should be more diligent and have in place strict and clear procedures, so that the licensee can be satisfied that a presenter will disclose any commercial agreement as required by the Disclosure Standard.

“Mr Byner’s failure to reveal many of his personal sponsorship deals to the licensee has exposed FIVEaa’s compliance processes and has led the licensee to breach the standards.”

In considering what action to take in relation to FIVEaa’s breaches of the standards, the ABA took into account the station’s cooperative response to the ABA’s investigation and the substantial changes FIVEaa subsequently made to its compliance procedures. As a result, the ABA has decided to seek undertakings from the licensee that FIVEaa will continue to maintain the improved disclosure and compliance requirements it has introduced.

The ABA is primarily concerned to “ensure that FIVEaa’s breaches of the standards do not recur” according to Maddock. “The undertakings the ABA expects to receive from FIVEaa will include additional reporting requirements for the next 12 months.”

Bartlett says: “FIVEaa is pleased that the ABA has recognised the considerable efforts of the station’s management to obtain full disclosure from Mr Byner of all of his commercial arrangements and thereupon to inform our listeners of those arrangements, and notes that the ABA has taken into account Mr Byner’s failure to disclose those arrangements to the station in its findings.

“FIVEaa notes and agrees with the ABA’s conclusion that there was no evidence that any commercial arrangements involving Mr Byner had any affect on the presentation of his program.”