Ofcom has upheld a complaint made about presenter Tony Horne by Mark Thorburn, which claimed he was unjustly or unfairly treated.
Mr Thorburn wrote to Ofcom saying he had been treated unfairly and unjustly in programmes on NE 1 FM, in which Mr Horne made inaccurate and inflammatory comments about him and incorrectly accused Mr Thorburn of conducting a campaign of abuse against him using Twitter and the internet.
He said that Mr Horne had used his privileged position as a radio broadcaster to pursue a personal vendetta against him.
The station stood by Horne, saying he was a very experienced broadcaster “who neither publishes nor broadcasts facts, which he cannot support”, and that he did not abuse his position as a broadcaster, when making the statements complained of.
In the programme broadcast on 27 October 2012, Ofcom noted that Mr Horne told his audience that he had been the victim of serious wrongdoing and said that he would be naming the person he held to be responsible later in the programme, stating:
“…I’ll be filling you in on a Twitter campaign of abuse that was wielded out against me which began on July 14 2011, and I’ll be filling you in and pointing you in the direction of the culprits a little bit later on, on the show this morning”.
Later on in the show, Mr Horne said:
“On the 5 August this year I received a text from this person [the person who claimed to have been involved in the alleged “smear campaign”] after I’d questioned them if they knew anything about this fake Twitter account. I received a reply with words to the effect of ‘Yes, Mark made me set it up’. The text I received also detailed the plan to ruin me. ‘He hates you with a massive passion’ I quote ‘I can’t even begin to try to put it in words. The problem is he’s devious, he’s slippery.
“They were plotting your demise because of all the terrible things you were responsible for’”.
Mr Horne then provided his audience with some background information about the man he had identified as “Mark”, and went on to describe the effect that the alleged activities of “Mark” had had on himself and his family:
“As you can image when you are subject to over 40 days of abuse on Twitter, and this runs into when your daughter is starting secondary school, that is not a very nice thing to have to endure. You can accept it perhaps from a member of the public who didn’t agree with your radio show, but from a member of the same industry I found it pretty appalling. If you don’t know who I’m talking about, the person’s name is Mark, and that’s all I have to say at this point”.
Then on November 3rd 2012, Mr Horne continued to talk about the issue:
“So all those years that you were listening to the Tony Horne Radio Show [i.e. his former show on the commercial radio station Metro Radio] I was fighting an illness and I’m still fighting it…And one of the other things you might of have heard last week was that I mentioned the fact that Mark Thorburn had led a internet campaign against myself that was a fake Twitter account set up after I left Metro Radio on 14 July 2011. I’d like to add a little more to that if I could …”.
Ofcom noted that Mr Horne went on to accuse two unnamed presenters from a radio station called Real Radio of making false statements about him to the police before making a further allegation that a different third party had been spreading a false rumour that Mr Horne had “broken down” in the back of police van.
In the programme broadcast on 10 November 2012, Ofcom noted that Mr Horne again returned to the subject of the alleged “internet smear campaign” against him and again gave the complainant’s full name in connection with it, stating:
“I left Metro Radio on July the 14th 2011, and was subject to an internet smear campaign, which was fronted by ex-broadcaster Mark Thorburn and ably assisted by a couple of people at Real Radio”.
In upholding the complaint, Ofcom noted that the language used by Mr Horne was accusatory in nature, and that it would have left listeners in no doubt that Mr Horne regarded Mr Thorburn to be the person responsible for the instances of wrongdoing he claimed to have suffered.
Ofcom also said Mr Thorburn should have been given a a right to reply by the radio station, especially as the programme was pre-recorded.
The station said it did not see the need as it has seen sufficiant evidence to satisfy itself that what Mr Horne said was fact. Ofcom disagreed saying “the station did not take reasonable care to satisfy itself that material facts had not been presented, disregarded or omitted in a way that was unfair to the complainant, Mr Thorburn.
Tony Horne is no longer listed on the NE 1 FM schedule and current hosts the mid-morning show on UTV Media’s Wish FM, Wire FM and Tower FM.
Read the full story in the latest Ofcom update (PDF).