The media watchdog has determined that the Nine Network scripted remarks about poker machine gambling laws during a 2011 NRL broadcast, and misled a complainant by saying they were the views of the presenters.
But it did not breached political or paid advertising.
An Australian Communications and Media Authority investigation found that Nine CEO David Gyngell invited Anthoyn Ball of Clubs Australia to a meeting to discuss ways to potential on-air support for the anti-pokies campaign. Nine’s Managing Director Jeffrey Browne then wrote letters to CEOs of 17 NRL clubs inviting examples of ways their clubs support the community, to be highlighted in upcoming NRL coverage.
Commentator Ray Warren was presented with the script prior to broadcast and indicated he was happy to read it as it reflected his own views.
On September 23rd when he was commentating an NRL match, Warren told viewers:
“The Eagles are rocking. Not only has the Manly Football Club been doing great work on the field this season they have also been very busy working with the community off the field with significant funding from the Manly Leagues Club and Harbord Diggers …but they are under threat from the new untested technology the federal government plans to introduce.”
Phil Gould added, “I’ve never seen a more stupid policy in all my life…”
Ball later wrote to Gyngell thanking him for the commentary.
“Rabs and Gus nailed it and made a real impact. We’ll win this thing and it’s great to be able to call on friends like you. It won’t be forgotten.”
David Gyngell emailled: “Thanks mate happy to help.”
But after the comments were questioned by both media and politicians, Nine’s Network Compliance Manager Shelley Bates, told Media Watch, “The comments relating to the Federal Government proposed poker machine tax were purely the opinions of the commentators regarding matters directly affecting the NRL community.”
Ray Warren denied the network stance, saying the comments were a “directive from up top,” causing Nine to reverse its position and assert the comments “reflect the views of the Nine Network.”
Today ACMA has found Nine breached the Code in regard to its complaints handling policy, by also providing misleading information to the complainant.
However on the bigger question of political advertising or paid advertising Nine was not found in breach, because the comments were not broadcast at the request of anyone other than Nine and the network was not paid to broadcast the material.
Nine is already subject to an Enforceable Undertaking with ACMA regarding its complaints handling and has agreed to additional measures, including oversight of complaint-handling by a nominated Nine director and Board-level exposure to regular complaint-handling reports. The Undertaking will also be extended for an additional two years.
ACMA claims the investigation exposed potential gaps in the existing code and will raise them with Free TV Australia ahead of the industry’s next review of its Code.