A listener of The Edge radio station says she was made to feel “like the butt of a cruel joke” after she was set up to date two men who weren’t who they said they were.
Emily*, a 25-year-old teacher, says she signed up to The Edge’s ‘The Masked Single’ promotion last month hoping to find a genuine relationship.
“They promoted it as something where you'd be doing dates but it was personality-based which was something that appealed to me. I wanted to find something real and long-lasting; that was the goal of participating in it,” she says.
She says she went into The Edge’s Auckland studio several times to take part in the promotion over a week and a half in April.
The segment was hosted by The Edge Breakfast hosts Dom Harvey, Meg Mansell and Clinton Randall.
She wore a mask, as did the three contestants who she believed were listeners who had signed up to date her after her introductory segment, where she told listeners about herself.
“I was pretty open and honest about my past relationship situations and experiences. I was pretty open and honest about who I was. I was coming in with genuine good intentions.”
Over the week-and-a-half she was introduced to the three masked men, including ‘Ryan’ who told her he was a 21-year-old AUT student and ‘Jeremy’ who said he was a 27-year-old builder.
“I like just being outside and kind of working with my hands and watching what you’re doing … like seeing it happen in front of you is really rewarding,” ‘Jeremy’ told her about his building career.
Emily said although she wasn’t impressed by ‘Ryan’, she was excited about the idea of getting to know ‘Jeremy’ but it wasn’t until the end of the competition that she found out the two men had been using fake names and identities.
“I was left with two contestants to choose between. I eliminated one and they went to a music break. I was having friendly conversation with the eliminated guy. Coz [sic] we both studied communications I was like 'Hey, what’s your major?' and he was like 'Oh actually, I'm not studying communications. I work for Mediaworks' … That was quite a shock, I had no idea he was working for Mediaworks prior to that conversation."
At that point Emily says she still believed ‘Jeremy’ was who he said he was, as no one had told her otherwise. Listeners of The Edge Breakfast show were also none the wiser.
“They did a big reveal with the guy I'd chosen. That was nice and we got a photo together. He walked me out of the building and there was nothing to say he worked for Mediaworks at that point, I thought he was a builder”.
She says she shared further personal information with ‘Jeremy’.
“On-air with the final date they asked me why my last relationship ended … out of respect to my ex-partner I didn't want to share that with the whole nation. Off-air I was quite happy to discuss it. I discussed it with ‘Jeremy’. I was open and honest about it; it was a story that’s quite personal and challenging."
She says a couple of hours later she got a call from a The Edge producer telling her ‘Jeremy’ wasn’t who he said he was either.
“[He said] ‘I have to confess … the dude you chose ‘Jeremy’… he's not a builder. He works for Mediaworks as an intern.’ I had a couple of hours thinking I'd met this person feeling excited about it. It just was all not real.”
Emily says she felt “disappointed, used and discarded”.
“I felt like the butt of a cruel joke… the fact that they were so willing to use me for a performance and lie to me shows very little respect to women in terms of their time and energy and dignity."
Media commentator Gavin Ellis says although promotional stunts are common in commercial radio, it appears this one crossed a line.
“I think that crosses the line from fun to deception when it uses people without their knowledge and places them in a position where they might reveal personal information and where they will face acute embarrassment as a result.”
“It raises two quite fundamental issues: one is informed consent. Did the young woman know what the true purpose of the programme was and did she know the real identity of the people involved?
"Had she known both would she have consented to take part? It appears she did not know either. There's also a separate issue with subterfuge, with saying who you’re not and using a false identity.”
The incident comes amidst an independent culture review at Mediaworks, sparked by allegations of assault, harassment and bullying which surfaced on Instagram page ‘Beneath the Glass Ceiling NZ’.
1 NEWS spoke to current and former staffers about their experiences this week.
Former staffer Katie* says she’s long had concerns about the way Mediaworks runs its on-air promotions.
“A lot of what happened on air was circled around embarrassing women, sexualising women and disgusting pranks and jokes,” she says.
“The whole challenge was to be more outrageous - do the next big thing. Get a broadcasting complaint? Great, that was literally a pat on the back for a broadcasting complaint. That was a successful radio promo.”
Radio Broadcasters Association CEO Jana Rangooni says she doesn’t believe it’s common for stations to consider BSA complaints a ‘badge of honour’.
“When I first came back to New Zealand about 20 years ago there was a little bit of that around some specific hosts, but that’s not the attitude of most of the senior execs I deal with. I think most people are focused on growing and engaging with audiences, not trying to turn them off.
“There are times when a radio station does a ‘prank’ call or stunt where part of the entertainment value does lie in some form of deception, although usually there is a ‘reveal’ at some point which makes it clear.
"I would not say it is normal to deceive a listener as part of a promotion. In terms of having strong relationships with audiences and clients, deception is not usually one of the hallmarks of a great relationship.”
Mediaworks told 1 NEWS it doesn’t celebrate complaints, and the way ‘The Masked Single’ promotion was run was wrong.
“While we had the best intentions when we set out to run this promotion, we acknowledge the decision to run it as we ended up doing so was not the right decision. We have apologised to the individual involved,” a spokesperson said.
“Our standards committee did receive a complaint about this and is in the process of responding in line with BSA processes.”
Mediaworks claims hosts Dom Harvey, Meg Mansell and Clinton Randell were not aware the contestants were interns.
“It was organised by producers,” the spokesperson said.
“We have apologised and reviewed our practices as a result.”
*Names have been changed
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