Nine cleared of breaching rules over pokies plug, but guilty of lying about it afterwards

Nine Network has been cleared of running an undeclared paid ad against pokie reform after NRL commentators Ray Warren and Phil Gould launched into scripted comments opposing the measures and plugging a campaign website.

However, the broadcaster was found to have lied when it claimed afterwards that the incident was simply the duo sharing their own opinions, in breach of Free TV’s code of practice on complaint handling.

The findings are the results of an investigation launched by the Australian Communications and Media Authority into last September’s comments:

Ray Warren:

“Not only has the Manly Football Club been doing great work on the field this season, they’ve also been very busy working with the community off the field. With significant funding from the Manly Leagues Club and Harbord Diggers, for whom a lot of these kids played, the Sea Eagles established the Eagle’s Nest, in conjunction with the Royal Far West Health Service. Eagle’s Nest is a multi-purpose room where staff run adolescent mentoring programs with the assistance of the Manly players. The ongoing financial assistance of registered clubs across Australia ensure this, and many other worthwhile programs, continue, but they are under threat from the new untested technology the Federal Government plans to introduce. Funding from clubs is the lifeblood of  many community programs and initiatives that we all enjoy. So for more information go to

“Well you’re very much a part of the club industry these days, Gus, and it is true, they do a lot for the community. And if they keep hitting the clubs, the ones who are going to suffer are the ones at the bottom of the ladder.”

Phil Gould:

“Yes, the proposed mandatory pre-commitment that they’ve put forward is a rubbish policy. It won’t work, it won’t solve the problem they say they’re going to target, and it will do irreparable damage to the hospitality industry. It won’t work, and it will hurt. You’re 100% right. I’ve never seen a more stupid policy in my life.”

During the comments a link to the Won’t Work Will Hurt website also appeared on the screen.

But after being shown a series of internal emails, ACMA ruled that the comments were not a paid commercial at somebody else’s request because Nine’s CEO David Gyngell had initiated it.

However, the email trail included a message to Nine from former Labor government power broker Karl Bitar, who is now head of government affairs at James Packer’s gambling behemoth Crown. The note said that Bitar had talked to Clubs Australia’s Anthony Ball and told him “Given what Gyngell is offering, he has to make sure Clubs do the right thing by Nine in the future.”

Clubs Australia also told Gyngell that his help “wouldn’t be forgotten”.

But the watchdog ruled: “While the ACMA has not found a breach, the ACMA notes that the purpose … is to provide transparency around the broadcast of political matter.

“There is no prohibition on a licensee running its own political campaign, but the licensee did not make clear, in the broadcast impugned, that the script had been prepared by Nine management and was broadcast at the initiative of Nine management. Not did the licensee make clear the website to which it directed viewers ‘for more information’ was a website of a campaign funded by Clubs Australia.”

ACMA pointed out that if the comments had been made in a current affairs show, there would have been greater requirements for factual material to be broadcast accurately. It said it would “raise” that with Free TV for the next review of the code of practice.

The watchdog also raised concerns about how Nine dealt with complaints from the public, telling one “The comments… were purely the opinions of the commentators regarding matters directly affecting the NRL community.” ACMA ruled that the

“description of the broadcast as ‘purely the opinions of the commentators… was at best misleading and at worst false.

“ACMA does not accept that the licensee’s obligation to make ‘every reasonable effort to resolve code complaints promtly’ can be discharged by providing misleading responses to such complaints.”

“Moreover, the emphasis which the licensee placed on the views of the commentators and its failure to articulate its own role in formulating the broadcast represents a failure to genuinely engage with viewers’ complaints and thereby the co-regulatory framework that assigns primary responsibility for resolving viewer complaints to broadcasters.

“Given… the overall lack of frankness in the licensee’s responses, the ACMA finds that the licensee’s conduct in responding to the complainants did not amount to making ‘every reasonable effort’ to resolve the complaints.”

Last month, campaign group GetUp revealed that Nine was among the networks which declined to air an ad campaigning against pokies.


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