The Southern Cross Austereo board of directors held an emergency meeting on Sunday afternoon. The board, led by Chairman Max Moore-Wilton would no doubt have been faced with the difficult task of how to best chart a course through a sea of troubles that has blown up into a perfect storm over the weekend.
To re-cap: A low grade stunt by two young announcers to see if they could get through to the Duchess of Cambridge’s hospital bed had gone horribly wrong when the nurse who initially transferred their call was found dead in her quarters, three days later. An apparent suicide.
Parts of the media here and in the UK were scathing in their condemnation of both the announcers who made the prank call and the radio station that allowed them to do it. Twiiter and facebook was in meltdown with hateful comments directed at those they believed complicit in nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death.
From that point on, at about 4:00 am on Saturday, SCA CEO, Rhys Holleran and the two announcers concerned, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, found themselves in a world of hurt.
By mid Saturday morning Coles and Telstra had cancelled their advertising schedules with 2Day-FM. Soon after, like 2GB had done just two months before, SCA announced that it would pull all advertising from the station until further notice – apparently a strategy designed to mitigate the risk of the media publishing a brand by brand description of an advertiser exodus from the station.
With an emergency declared, the board met at SCA’s Sydney offices to discuss their next moves on Sunday afternoon.
Besieged by an angry mob including some authorities, the board would have needed to figure out how best to appease them – starting with who, if anyone, should be held accountable.
Meanwhile, UK police have contacted their Australian counterparts, signalling they may want to interview the two announcers.
The easiest targets would be the two announcers who executed the stunt. After all, most of the anger in both the regular and social media was directed at them.
But it’s hard to isolate them as the sole culprits, given that the segment was cleared for broadcast by the SCA legal team. Perhaps they would make a worthy sacrifice.
Besides, the two presenters are already undergoing intensive counseling for deep anxiety caused by the barrage of hate mail and death threats. Cutting them loose in their current state would be inhumane and likely to backfire earning a rebuke from people such as beyondblue Chairman Jeff Kennett.
The board also needed to consider it’s formal response to a Chairman to Chairman letter from King Edward VII Hospital’s, Lord Glenarthur, to SCA’s Max Moore-Wilton.
In it Lord Glenarthur places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of management, “King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
“Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling,” wrote Lord Glenarthur.
The full letter, as published in the Fairfax press, can be seen below.
Then there’s the question of advertiser boycotts. Having barely recovered from the Change.org and Sack Vile Kyle campaigns from last year, 2Day-FM can hardly afford a repeat.
Change.org with its doctored publicity shot of Grieg and Christian (left) has already fired up a page dedicated to warning advertisers off the station. It is headed “2Day FM Radio, Sydney: Dismiss Mel Greig and Michael Christian and all those involved for gross misconduct”
Even less than an advertiser boycott can 2Day afford another adverse finding from the ACMA. Less than a year into a five year special condition imposed on it’s licence, 2Day-FM could be under serious threat of losing that licence if a complaint is made to the authority and an investigation is held.
In a media conference on Saturday, Mr Holleran declined to confirm or deny whether permission to broadcast their voices was sought and granted from the nurses involved in the prank. He did, however, tell reporters that he was confident that his organisation had broken no laws. So far, the NSW Police after they had been contacted by Scotland Yard suggest that that is probably true.
Nonetheless, the SCA, board will insist on knowing whether evidence of permissions exists, because although it is not a law, The Commercial Radio Code of Practice, which comes under ACMA’s jurisdiction, stipulates…
A licensee must not broadcast the words of an identifiable person unless:
a) That person has been informed in advance or a reasonable person would be aware that the words may be broadcast
b) In the case of words which have been recorded without the knowledge of that person, that person has subsequently, but prior to the broadcast, expressed consent to the broadcast of their words.
If no permissions exist, then the SCA legal team that allowed the segment to air without them may find themselves in court arguing that although the voices may have been “identifiable” to the nurses’ colleagues in London, they were not identifiable to anyone who heard the segments where they were actually broadcast, in Sydney. It was the British media that exposed them in London.
Either way, if ACMA decides to investigate and puts 2Day’s licence in jeopardy, it could turn out to be a long and expensive case.
In light of all these problems, the board may even have considered whether the Today Network might do better changing to a less edgy format.
Below is the entire letter from Lord Glenarthur.
I am writing to protest in the strongest possible terms about the hoax call made from your radio station, 2Day FM, to this hospital last Tuesday.
King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call.
Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling.
The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.
I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.
Max Moore Wilton has replied to the letter, see our other report.