ACMA release In the first civil penalty matter to be heard under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (the BSA), the Federal Court of Australia has ordered Radio 2UE Sydney Pty Ltd to pay penalties totalling $360,000 for breaching a condition of its broadcasting licence. The breaches arose out of 2UE’s broadcasts of the final two months of the John Laws Morning Show in late 2007.

In proceedings brought by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, 2UE admitted that on 13 occasions during October and November 2007 it breached the Commercial Radio Disclosure Standard. The Disclosure Standard requires licensees to disclose the existence of commercial sponsorship arrangements between presenters and sponsors.

The ACMA welcomes the decision of the Federal Court. 2UE repeatedly breached its obligations under the Act, even after giving the ACMA an enforceable undertaking, committing itself to improve compliance,’ said Chris Cheah, Acting Chairman of the ACMA.

‘The court has confirmed that in matters involving serious contraventions, a substantial civil penalty is an appropriate sanction. ’

In September 2007, 2UE gave the ACMA an enforceable undertaking, which included undertakings that the John Laws Morning Show would be monitored to ensure compliance with the Disclosure Standard and 2UE would take action if disclosure announcements were not made when presenters mentioned sponsors. The undertaking was accepted by the ACMA in response to earlier breaches of the Disclosure Standard in 2006. When the ACMA assessed compliance with that undertaking and with the Disclosure Standard, it identified 13 instances in which a further breach of the Disclosure Standard had occurred.

On 9 November 2007, 2UE was sold to Fairfax Media. Since acquiring 2UE, Fairfax Media has cooperated with the ACMA and has actively sought to improve compliance with its broadcasting obligations.

In November 2008, the ACMA and Fairfax Media agreed on a quantum of penalties that would be presented to the court for its approval in relation to the breaches of the Disclosure Standard during the John Laws Morning Show. The court was asked to accept as appropriate, a penalty of $10,000 for each breach that had been identified and admitted by 2UE as being a breach of the Disclosure Standard.

The court directed the Communications Law Centre to intervene in the proceedings to make submissions on the public interest issues.

Taking into account the submissions of the intervener and the factors to be considered under the BSA, including 2UE’s admission of liability and introduction of a new compliance program the court decided to impose penalties of varying amounts totalling $360,000.