By Annie Kinny and Matt Burgess, Director.
The recent 2DAY FM radio station prank, which has been associated with tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha, has highlighted the issue of media standards (again) and resulted in offensive online chat going viral often following Australia v England patriotic tendencies.
In the first instance the radio station hit international headlines for executing a ‘great prank’. Most were shocked that the call even got as far as it did, nevertheless the presenters were showered with praise. However, the bright light of success was quick lived when it was discovered that the nurse who patched the call through to the ward in which Kate Middleton was being cared for had taken her own life casting a dark, heavy shadow on the presenters, the radio station owned by Austereo and the media industry at large.
Radio stations have a long history of dangerous pranks in their quest for attention. As you may be aware, the Kyle and Jackie O show has often hit the headlines for engaging in conduct, which has been viewed as morally and ethically wrong and in some cases, illegal. The ACMA is undergoing an investigation and there seems to be a clear breach of their Code of Practice. The Code of Practice for Interviews and Talkback Programs clearly states ‘A licensee must not broadcast the recorded words of an identifiable person without the knowledge and express consent of such person’. But so what? Will ACMA be enforcing this “Code” on the basis there may be a connection to a woman’s death or will a proportional, equitable discipline be handed down risking bringing attention to the fact the media are horribly under-regulated by their system? From past examples, a slap on the wrist, mild suspension or education is often the path that follows such behaviour from ACMA… Hmm, appropriate here? The complex issue of self-regulation in media is again brought to question and left aside here because we don’t have 4 hours of your time to waste arguing towards an informed answer that doesn’t yet exist.
The fallout from the 2Day FM prank has resulted in the show (“Hot 30”) being pulled off the air, sponsors dropping out for fear of being targeted by association, Christmas parties cancelled, pledges of $500,000 being paid to the grieving family on top profits from advertising until the end of the year being held in a memorial fund for the victim’s family. However, whether or not any action legal or otherwise will be taken is yet to be seen… and seems unlikely according to many reports. Some would suggest it seems from an objective point of view that the actions taken by 2Day FM are in the fullest form, a brand protection exercise.
Radio programs often engage in silly and usually recycled pranks to entice listeners and get a quick giggle. One popular station has recently been running a competition which involves callers ‘tricking’ a family member or friend in order to get into a draw to win tickets to an upcoming music concert. The purpose of the prank is to get a reaction, to successfully ‘trick’ an individual, which sparks the “OMG” and attention from listeners quickly converted into returns on advertising investment with the station’s advertisements following seamlessly afterwards. On one hand such pranks can be viewed as the product of immature presenters and on the other hand such pranks can be seen as a reflection on society’s obsession with celebrity culture. When Kate Middleton was admitted to hospital with pregnancy complications (morning sickness), the media simply had to know more. Why? Because any news relating to a celebrity is good news, even where there has been a serious breach of privacy… but to what extent do you provide the most famous family in the world “privacy”?
It can honestly be said from any punter, no matter how educated on this matter, that the woman with a minor role in this prank taking her life was certainly not on 2Day FM management’s radar when considering airing the call. Their response indicates that whilst a reaction was the intention of the prank, no one could have predicted the devastating effects. Perhaps no-one could have predicted that a life would be lost however, the nurses were in possession of private information relating to one of the most non-private families in the world. In circumstance where they have been tricked into giving away such information a loss of job, discipline and ridicule from the hospital is entirely predictable. This, along with many, many other issues within this poor woman’s life may have also been a factor in her ending it.
It needs to be said that no one but those with a much fuller understanding of Jacintha Saldanha’s situation than us on the other side of the world can comment on what influenced this tragedy. That it may have had an effect on Miss Saldanha’s personal state of mind, sure but that there was a causal link between the prank and her death? That presumption is offensive and cannot be correct as the only one able to prove it is, unfortunately, the deceased. It is, at least, a chance to again consider the worst of the media and how it operates to ignore the personal effects on individuals with the over-referred to justification of “public policy” and “a right to know”.
Perhaps now it is time for media to take a good look at their own practices and look to further regulate how they conduct their programing. However, society really needs to take some responsibility and ask why we consume information and news and take such satisfaction in the shame or humiliation of others? Whilst the prank clearly had no other intention than to be a ‘bit of a joke’, the attempt backfires when associated with such tragic circumstances.
This can be the catalyst for serious change, and hopefully it is in terms of actioning change for media regulation through ACMA. Unfortunately, the opportunistic industry of delivering what is considered “news” continues to assert blame rather than learn from centuries of experience of justice systems (blame is what they do remember?) by taking a breathe, considering ALL of the circumstances involved and then ensuring the chances of this ever happening again are minimised… and we refer to the loss of Jacintha Saldanha, not to pranks by radio stations. This “prank” needs to take its place well down the priority list where it belongs, not misdirecting focus around Miss Saldanha’s grieving family.
Our sincere thoughts, condolences and prayers go out to Miss Saldanha’s family for their loss.
This blog is for discussion purposes only. This must not be considered legal advice.
For legal advice on this topic and references to any information in this article, please contact
Matt Burgess, Director:
Phone: +61 405 722 739
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Image Credit: Ambro
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