Roast Busters 'Amy' interview ruled acceptable

By Steve Deane

Willie Jackson (left) was reinstated but John Tamihere's contract was not renewed. Photo / Richard Robinson
Willie Jackson (left) was reinstated but John Tamihere's contract was not renewed. Photo / Richard Robinson

A controversial radio interview with a young woman about the Roast Busters group did not breach standards, says MediaWorks - and broadcasting authorities have not received an official complaint.

John Tamihere and Willie Jackson's interview with a caller who identified herself as Amy included questions about whether Roast Busters' alleged victims - some of whom were reportedly under-age - may have in fact consented to sex.

Amy claimed to be close to an alleged victim. At one stage during the interview, Tamihere asked Amy how old she was when she lost her virginity. "How free and easy are you kids these days out there?" he asked. "You now, you were like 14, yeah?"

Read more from the controversial interview: Excerpts from Jackson/Tamihere 'Amy' call

The interview provoked a social media backlash that targeted the station's sponsors, many of which pulled their advertising from the Willie and JT RadioLive show.

Both hosts agreed to stand down while the company dealt with the fallout. Jackson was later reinstated while Mr Tamihere's contract was not renewed.

The full ruling of MediaWorks' radio standards committee is included in an affidavit Tamihere plans to file to support a $620,000 lawsuit against the company that alleges breach of contract and defamation.

The committee measured complaints about the Amy interview against nine separate broadcasting standards and the Bill of Rights Act and found that no breaches had been committed.

A complaint about good taste and decency was rejected because upholding it would have had a "chilling effect" on future attempts to deal with sensitive subjects, the ruling states.

"We consider that the broadcast was acceptable to the regular RadioLive talkback audience in the context of the entire show. The interview subject took part voluntarily; she did not express any distress during the interview and in contrast appeared comfortable answering all questions."

The report's findings included:

No callers complained about the interview during the show.

The interview elicited important information.

The hosts frequently stated that they did not condone the Roast Busters' behaviour and that any sex with underage girls was rape.

Amy was treated fairly.

A spokesman for the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA) said complaints must initially be made to the broadcaster. If complainants were not satisfied they could then refer the complaint to the BSA. As of yesterday the BSA had not received any complaints about the Amy interview.

MediaWorks spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer said the company received hundreds of complaints. She said the complaints had no relation to the decision not to renew Tamihere's contract.

Tamihere's affidavit claims the MediaWorks committee issued its decision on December 3 - the day he was told his contract would not be renewed. His defamation suit alleges MediaWorks' decision not to publish its committee's findings and to announce that he would be replaced via a tweet rather than an agreed managed communications strategy was part of a deliberate attempt to damage his reputation.

It'll be an expensive, uphill struggle: academic

John Tamihere's $620,000 legal battle with MediaWorks will be a costly, drawn-out affair with no guarantee of success, law professor Bill Hodge says.

"It is not a slam dunk by any means," Professor Hodge said.

The Auckland University employment law expert said the broadcaster and former MP's $500,000 defamation suit would be challenging as MediaWorks would defend it vigorously using defamation experts, while Tamihere's counsel Mark Ryan was not a noted defamation expert.

"It's going to be, A, expensive and, B, very vigorously defended with both factual and legal merit. It's going to be a real struggle.

"He wouldn't have gone into it lightly but it is going to be an uphill struggle because these things are always difficult.

"This one in particular is fraught with difficulty because [MediaWorks] have got a context for their actions and of course the context was considerable public concern for what had gone on. Whether blame was apportioned to [Tamihere] unfairly, I wouldn't know."

The fact that MediaWorks had not made any obviously defamatory statements about Tamihere would not be a problem if he could prove the innuendo amounted to a defamatory statement.

"I'm not taking John's side and I'm not taking a position against him.

"As an academic I will be very interested to watch it play out."

Tamihere's $120,000 breach of contract claim would come down to whether he could prove the details of the contract had been agreed.

"What lawyers will look for is if there was a meeting of minds on exactly what the terms were," Professor Hodge said.

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Visit tinyurl.com/tamiheretranscript for an excerpt from the Amy interview

- NZ Herald

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