AUSTRALIA: Pranking Leads to Chilled Speech

KAYLA DE BONDT WRITES – The Australian high court has cleared the way for a Sydney radio station to face charges for an on-air stunt which ultimately led to the suicide of a pranked nurse. In the process, the court backed the power of the country’s media watchdog to identify criminal behavior by media outlets and take action against them.

In December 2012, radio DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian of 2Day FM pretended to be members of the British Royal family in an attempt to gain information about the Duchess of Cambridge’s medical condition. Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who answered the call and subsequently transferred it to a colleague who gave details about the Duchess’s condition at King Edward’s VII’s Hospital, committed suicide days later.

In light of the events that unfolded after the hoax call was aired and made international headlines, the ACMA held an investigation into whether the 2Day FM hosts broke Australian broadcasting laws for airing the prank call without obtaining the consent of the participating parties involved.

It was not until the High Court of Australia’s ruling on March 4, 2015 that the ACMA was granted the administrative power to release their findings and uphold an earlier ruling from November 2013, paving the way for penalties to be imposed on the Sydney Radio Station.

This case has now highlighted the strength of the ACMA as a watchdog, which is endorsed by the highest legal authority in Australia. However, this increased authority has led to heightened concerns across numerous broadcasting outlets.

The parent company of 2Day FM, Southern Cross Austereo, responded to the High Court ruling stating that “there is a serious defect in Australian broadcasting law,” suggesting that they will seek for the law to be changed immediately. Additionally, other broadcasting organizations, such as Free TV Australia and Commercial Radio Australia (CRA), have also expressed deep concerns over this new ruling.  CRA chief executive Joan Warner stated that “the ACMA can now act as the police, judge and jury.”

These organizations are now joining forces with Southern Cross Austereo to apply pressure on the federal government to change the current legislation under the Broadcasting Services Act to ensure broadcasters receive their right to due process.







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