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Wave sends a lesson to all

Last week, Bauer-owned south coast station Wave 105 had an Ofcom ruling upheld after breakfast show host Steve Power failed to separate editorial from advertising clearly while doing a ‘live read’.

Only one person complained – but that’s all it takes, as radio consultant Paul Chantler looks at the legal side of radio, in an exclusive article for Radio Today.

[b]Comedians Paul Merton and Ian Hislop have a lot to answer for when it comes to the legality of what can and can’t be said on the radio. [/b]

Their use of the word ‘allegedly’ on Have I Got News For You became a running joke – and lulled a generation of radio presenters into believing that if they used it too, they could say what they liked about anyone without being sued for libel.

Not true! In fact, using the word allegedly before a potentially dodgy remark about someone gives the impression you realise what you’re about to say is dangerous. It’s perceived as admittance that you’re not sure whether what you’re saying is true.

There are a number of reasons why the Have I Got News For You team – and other satirical radio and TV comedy shows – get away with it. Context is everything. If things are presented in a light-hearted way on a well-established comedy show, there’s far less chance of being sued than if allegations are presented on a breakfast show which contains factual information as well as comedy.

It’s never enough simply to use the word ‘allegedly’. For example, if you were to hear someone was an ‘alleged prostitute’ or an ‘alleged conman’, what would you think? And to say you didn’t know isn’t a valid argument when it comes to the law – lack of knowledge is no defence.
Libel is just one of the areas of the law where both presenters and journalists need an up-to-date working knowledge. They also need to know about the Broadcasting Codes overseen by Ofcom.

We live in a world nowadays where complaining is made easy and almost all stations stream their output over the internet. Consequently stations and presenters are under more scrutiny than ever before, hence the need for regular legal and compliance training.

Even if a complaint is not upheld, it can generate bad publicity as Reggie Yates found out when he made a slip of the tongue on Radio One’s chart show saying there were a “sh*tload” of songs coming up. He apologised immediately but two listeners complained, Ofcom investigated and dismissed the complaint – but it still made headlines in a number of newspapers.

Ways of working which used to be acceptable are no longer so, especially in the area of choosing callers to take part in competitions as many stations have found to their cost. Gone are the days when you could pre-select a ‘screamer’ from your target audience in a part of your area where you wanted to boost audience figures. Quite rightly, everyone with the correct answer has to have a fair and equal chance of winning wherever they come from and whatever they sound like. They have to be selected randomly – and you have to be able to prove it too.

All this means presenters and journalists at the sharp end need to know the rules about matter such as libel, contempt, harm, offence, balance, fairness, competitions, trust and specialist areas like ‘undue prominence’. They can no longer plead ignorance or leave matters to their bosses.

Specialist training on broadcast law and compliance are vital. Failure to understand your responsibilities as a presenter can cause your radio station lots of money, lose you your job and possibly even land you in a prison cell.
That’s not so funny now, eh, Paul and Ian?

[b]Paul Chantler is senior partner of [link=http://www.unitedradio.co.uk]United Radio Consultants[/link] who organise broadcast law and compliance training courses for radio stations.

For individual presenters and journalists, Paul does courses through [link=http://www.yellow-media.co.uk]Yellow Media[/link].[/b]

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