Talkback host sues for $620,000

Tamihere is seeking damages of over $620,000. Photo / David White
Tamihere is seeking damages of over $620,000. Photo / David White
RadioLive presenters were told to stay away from public places and not to attend their children's sporting events or do their own shopping as the station's management sought to shut down the media storm around John Tamihere and Willie Jackson's questioning of a female talkback caller during the Roast Busters scandal.

The instructions from MediaWorks group communications manager Rachel Lorimer to Tamihere, Jackson and fellow hosts Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan are contained in an email in a sworn affidavit filed by Tamihere as part of a lawsuit that alleges breach of contract and defamation over his exit from the company.

The controversy was sparked by an interview

Jackson and Tamihere conducted with a caller called "Amy", who said she went to school with alleged victims of the Roast Busters. Comments made during the interview led to a social media campaign aimed at RadioLive sponsors.

Tamihere is seeking damages of over $620,000 in a suit filed with the High Court on December 23 last year.

The Herald has obtained a copy of Tamihere's statement of claim and sworn affidavit.

They reveal:

Tamihere claims MediaWorks had agreed to renew his $10,000-a-month contract for 2014 and he is suing for the full amount after the contract was not renewed following the scandal.

Tamihere alleges MediaWorks intentionally damaged his reputation. The company failed to follow an agreed strategy to manage the publicity around his departure from his talkback show, instead announcing via a tweet linked to a story on its website that Alison Mau would replace him as Jackson's co-host in 2014.

Tamihere alleges MediaWorks also failed to publish the findings of an internal complaints review process that found Jackson and Tamihere's interview with "Amy" had not breached any broadcasting standards.

Tamihere claims the effect was to allow the public to think Tamihere had been fired for misconduct over his role in the interview but that Jackson had done nothing wrong. Tamihere's defamation claim is for $500,000 in damages plus costs.

A MediaWorks spokeswoman said the company opted not to renew Tamihere's contract at the end of 2013, as was its right. "Our position is that his allegations have no substance," she said. "We will file our defence to the proceeding in due course."

An email chain in Tamihere's affidavit reveals that MediaWorks went into "damage control mode" after advertisers reacted to a social media backlash following the Amy interview by pulling their advertising from the station.

"I need your full support to ensure we don't provide further oxygen to this story", MediaWorks' general manager for talk brands Jana Rangooni wrote in an email dated November 8.

Her directive "not to discuss the Roast Busters story" did not meet with universal approval. Hay, who co-hosts the 7pm-10pm weeknight show with Fagan, replied that not talking about Roast Busters "will make us look like we have obviously been gagged". She suggested avoiding talking about the story would "make it bigger than just fronting it out sensibly".

"I can assure you fronting it out sensibly is not working", Mrs Rangooni replied.

As well as being directed not to discuss Roast Busters, RadioLive's presenters were instructed not to discuss the fact that they had been banned from talking about Roast Busters.

"I do not want this editorial directive discussed on air or with anyone outside this email group as it in itself could be another "angle" in the continued storm raging," Mrs Rangooni's email stated.

Mrs Lorimer's email - forwarded by Mrs Rangooni - advising presenters how to hide from the media was sent later that day.

"The last time I saw something like this it resulted in Paul Henry's resignation from TVNZ, for no very good reason," it said.

Tamihere's lawyer, Mark Ryan, said he had a strong claim against MediaWorks.

"[MediaWorks] had an internal investigation which completely cleared Mr Tamihere of any wrongdoing. That information hasn't been made public."

How it unfolded

November 3: A TV3 investigation reveals a group of young men are using Facebook to brag about their sexual exploits with intoxicated, often underage girls.

November 5: Talkback hosts Willie Jackson and John Tamihere interview a caller named Amy, who says she went to school with the victims. Comments during the interview spark a social media campaign, which protests against victim-blaming and targets RadioLive sponsors.

November 6: Jackson and Tamihere apologise over the interview.

November 11: Jackson and Tamihere stood down from the show for the rest of the year. The pair again apologise over the interview.

December 18: MediaWorks announce former Seven Sharp presenter Alison Mau will co-host the 12pm-3pm show with Willie Jackson in 2014.

December 20: Tamihere tells Radio Waatea he plans to sue MediaWorks.

 

JT

Ultimately their provocative views were always going to cost them something, in this case a job.

Talkback opinion fettered by Commercial Radio

Without agreeing with the expressed opinion of JT, it is clear that Radio Live has no obvious journalistic ethos, or commitment to free speech, when advertising income is under threat. The Network programmes Comment as Entertainment, and the shows are good. But they are intended to attract advertisers, not lose them.

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