2SM’s John Laws has breached the privacy provisions of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice by broadcasting a caller’s personal phone number on air.
On 25 November last year Laws read out and responded to emails from a listener criticising his response to an earlier caller and referring to ‘cash for comment.’
When reading out the email John Laws described the complainant as a ‘spineless son-of-a-bitch’ and a ‘gutless idiot’ because he had not included a second name or phone number.
The problem was the caller had included his name and phone number, but the show’s producers had taken it out when they typed it on the studio screen, as it is their practice to ‘sanitise’ emails for Laws to be able to read only the key points.
But Laws thought the called had not included his details so said: ‘…nor do you have the guts to put a contact number because I’d like to talk to you’. Later he said, ‘unless, however, [name] you’d like to send us an email with a contact number so that one of the handmaidens could ring you and I could talk to you on the air…’
In the second segment, after the listener had emailed again to confirm he did put his contact details on the email, Laws explained to his listeners that the phone number had been left off the earlier email by the ‘handmaidens’ and apologised for ‘having a go’ at the complainant and said it should not have happened.
But, not leaving it at that, Laws twice broadcast the listener’s name and phone number.
The caller complained to the station about the breach of privacy, then later to the ACMA when he believed he had not received an adequate response, saying:
“During the program, my personal phone number was read aloud by John, on more than one occasion. This was after being critical, as listeners are able to be. I believe that this is a serious breach of my privacy… the incident on your airways has caused me much distress.”
The station was caught out on issues of privacy, but was exonerated on some other issues, such as not responding properly to a complaint.
Clause 2.3 (d) of the Codes provides that the licensee must not ‘use material relating to a person’s personal or private affairs, or which invades an individual’s privacy, unless there is a public interest in broadcasting such information.’
The ACMA did not accept the licensee’s argument that there was implied consent on the part of the complainant to the broadcast of his phone number. Nor did the regulator accept that broadcasting the private details of the complainant was in the public interest.
“The ACMA considers that the broadcast of a name and mobile phone number amounts to the use of material relating to a person’s personal or private affairs as it enables direct contact to be made,” says the ACMA’s Investigation report.