Adelaide shock jock Leon Byner admits he broke the law – but he is back
on air. Why? How? What’s David Flint doing about it?
Commercial radio presents a fairly ugly face to the world. That’s
why it’s radio. And Adelaide is the face where the first
festering pustules of Cash for Comment appeared, years before Jonesey
and Laws, when a senior newsroom figure levelled allegations against
then ratings king Jeremy Cordeaux.

Still, the local industry seems to have learned nothing.

There was a sensation earlier this year when Adelaide Advertiser
journalist Craig Bildstein revealed Adelaide Lord Mayor Michael
Harbison had paid top rating 5AA morning host $6,000 for private media
coaching and advice, amongst other non-disclosed business dealings.

Byner was suspended – on full pay – and the Australian Broadcasting Authority launched an investigation.

But yesterday, just eight weeks on, news came out that Byner would be
making an on-air statement after the 9:00 am news, when his program
would normally begin. The statement was “Hi folks, I’m back”.

The ABA is yet to report, and they now have more to examine.

Byner admitted he broke broadcasting laws by failing to disclose
several personal media training and advisory deals, including one with
the Lord Mayor and another with electricity utility ETSA, suffering
much opprobrium in the wake of massive power price increases, and that
under ABA and 5AA rules, full disclosure was required.

“I am deeply sorry that I have failed to comply with these requirements,” Byner said.

“I have let down 5AA, my colleagues here, I have let down myself and most importantly I have let down you, my listeners.

“I can’t explain why I didn’t disclose these arrangements.

“I know that I have let everyone down and that is something that will be with me forever.”

But then he moved into daytime soap territory – in full knowledge, no doubt, of his audience:

“Now I can’t explain why I didn’t disclose these arrangements perhaps,
because they in no way involved cash for comments or anything close to
it,” he said.

“Perhaps I didn’t because I was under enormous stress through last year.

“Many of you may know that I’ve had major eye surgery and there was a very real risk last year that I might go blind.”

Yeah, yeah. Soap opera stuff that demonstrates an utter contempt for both his listeners and the law.

AA’s silly, Flash-heavy, website says that Byner is “a man you want on your side”. Is this how you got him?

Byner has denied his actions were cash-for-comment deals.

“An announcer who agrees to make favourable comments, or to refrain
from making unfavourable comments about a particular business or person
in return for cash, must disclose that arrangement to the station and
to his listeners.

“These are sometimes called cash-for-comment arrangements.

“I have never entered into any such arrangement and would never dream of doing so.”

No, he hadn’t revealed his arrangements when interviewing his clients
on air. But all he’d done, he claimed, was merely given advice.

“Those arrangements were with businesses like ETSA and people like Lord Mayor Michael Harbison,” he said.

“I should have disclosed those arrangements and I was wrong not to do so.

“5AA and the law requires arrangements like this to be disclosed.”

Byner told his listeners that he had since cancelled all his personal deals except for two, which he outlined to listeners.

Five AA’s general manager Paul Bartlett has defended the decision to
reinstate Byner and end his suspension before the ABA has handed down
its findings.

He has admitted Byner “lied” to the station but still insists AA’s credibility has not tarnished.

Either know what’s on his station’s own website – “Honesty, integrity
and trust are the foundation for all of our relationships. These values
must never falter.” – or considers it all eyewash.

Bartlett says that Byner had been “retrained” on disclosure
matters. That makes the public service euphemism about being
“counselled” look like clear and coherent English.

“We fill our corridors with richly talented people who believe in our
core values,” AA’s website says. Up to a point, obviously.

Most amazing, however, is Australian Broadcasting Chairman Professor David Flint’s reactions.

He has declined to comment directly about AA’s decision, but said the
Authority could not stop such a move. “We have no requirement or
the power to require broadcasters not to continue on air,” he said
yesterday.

The ABA’s’ investigation was still “quite a few weeks” from completion,
he was quoted as saying in today’s Advertiser. But what about the
moral dimension? Morality matters to conservatives like
Flint. Does he only comment on these issues when they occur in
other jurisdictions?

We expect a master – nay, a professor – of legal affairs like Flint to
have a different approach to matters of jurisprudence to that of the
Queen of Hearts in Alice and her emphatic “sentence first – verdict
afterwards” philosophy.

But today Flint and his ABA doesn’t just look like a toothless
tiger. He looks more than mangy. As they say in the
classics, this is an ex-tiger. It has ceased to be.

The shock jocks and their bosses, it appears, can get away with anything – and stuff the law and their listeners.

Peter Fray

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