Watchdog warns 98FM over putting minors on air

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) has issued Dublin radio station 98FM with a warning notice after a 13-year-old girl was interviewed live about young people sending inappropriate pictures of themselves via text message and social networks.

The girl phoned into the station’s Dublin Talks programme on April 1 and was put on air. In the complaint, the child’s mother said she was unaware of what was happening until she heard the broadcast live.

When the station was subsequently contacted and told the girl’s age a researcher apologised.

However, on April 2, the girl’s voice and excerpts of the conversation were subsequently used as promos for the programme.

The mother said on April 8, her daughter received a call from the station informing her one of the girls at the centre of the topic had died by suicide and the programme asked her daughter for a comment. While she did not comment she was then asked to phone the show if she “heard anything”.

In its initial response to the complainant, 98FM said it was its policy to ask callers if they were over 16 and that the girl said she was. It said when it had callers on a specific issue that provided an opinion, it would log their details to call them if the topic arose again and it was typical for clips of the phone-show to feature as promotional footage.

The station acknowledged it had already been informed the complainant’s daughter was only aged 13 and apologised she had been, unfortunately and in error, contacted after that call.

The station denied to the BAI committee it exposed the girl to harm or danger or breached her right to privacy by recording her details and calling her back.

However, the BAI said the broadcaster was obliged under the BAI code of programme standards to “take additional steps to ensure that children who participate in programmes or who are likely to be part of the audience are afforded protection”.

It said the topic of the debate included issues including sexting and child pornography. BAI said the programme was broadcast when schools were closed and on a topic about which teenagers would be more likely to want to contribute. Therefore the approach to the programme required “additional care”.

BAI said the presenter also spoke to another caller who said she was 14:

“The broadcaster took no apparent steps to seek the consent of the parents, guardians or other relevant parties before placing the complainant’s daughter or the identified 14-year-old girl on-air.

“It is of particular concern the broadcaster is of the view, as stated in its response to the BAI, that it is ‘almost impossible’ to get parental consent due to the ‘fast-paced’ nature of the programme.”


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