Radio content and privacy complaints land Emap with record fine

Out-Law News | 20 Jun 2006 | 3:07 pm | 2 min. read

The largest fine in radio history has been handed to Emap Radio for Kiss 100 radio shows which regulator Ofcom said were "not under proper control". Emap was fined £175,000.

Emap Radio had argued in its submission to the regulator that a large fine would make producing quality programming even harder, given the difficult financial year which commercial radio has had. The fine comes on top of the previous largest ever, a £125,000 levy against the company's Key 103 station in Manchester last year.

The fine relates to several complaints, the most serious of which was a 'fairness and privacy' complaint by an anonymous man, Mr R. One of the radio station's DJs, Streetboy, posed as the a human resources staff member at Mr R's company, where he was being made redundant and had applied for other posts.

In the call, which was broadcast without Mr R's consent, Streetboy ridiculed Mr R's qualifications and abilities.

Even Emap admitted in its submission that it had been in “bad taste for our breakfast show to take advantage of both the mistaken phone number divert, and the person who received the return call”.

Ofcom's ruling said: "There was obvious distress and unfairness to the complainant in the broadcast of the programme as well as an unwarranted infringement of privacy in both the making and broadcast of the item. The programme-makers’ treatment of Mr R was totally unacceptable. They showed a serious disregard for the consequences of their actions."

Other complaints related to sexual content and inappropriate language for shows broadcast often at breakfast time.

The managing director of London's Kiss 100 claimed that the company is trying to stamp out such behaviour. “As a radio station that tries to push the boundaries whilst engaging the capital’s biggest young, urban audience, we accept that we can sometimes unintentionally overstep the mark," said Griffin. "We have made every effort to prevent a reoccurrence and we fully accept Ofcom’s findings and apologise for any offence caused.”

Ofcom said that a high fine was justified because the company had clearly not put in place enough controls after previous fines. Ofcom said that its material relating to Mr R's case was not heard by anyone senior at the company for four weeks.

"In Ofcom’s view, the number and seriousness of the breaches between April and November last year suggests that for a substantial period of time the compliance of the show was evidently not under proper control," said Ofcom in its ruling. "There appeared to be a total inability of management to impose structures to ensure that there was adequate compliance with Ofcom’s Codes and that the station broadcast acceptable material at this time."

"Senior management at the company admitted to what they referred to as taking their “eye off [their] core duty”. These failures meant that an Ofcom investigation of some very serious complaints was not adequately dealt with."