2DayFM gets new licence condition but avoids being taken off air over royal prank call incident

acma 2DAYFMSouthern Cross Austereo’s flagship Sydney youth station 2DayFM has avoided being taken off air as punishment for breaking broadcasting regulations by airing the royal prank call in December 2012.

Instead the media watchdog has made a deal with SCA which will see the station hit with a third licence condition, all staff made to have ethics training and the station to broadcast a three-hour show to “raise public awareness of the signs and risks of bullying, depression and anxiety”.

The deal comes after 2DayFM was found to have breached broadcasting codes of practice by airing the December 2012 royal prank call which eventually led to British nurse Jacintha Saldanha taking her own life.

The ruling comes after a lengthy court battle between the ACMA and 2DayFM which was finally resolved in March.

While the ACMA had been tipped to suspend the licence of 2DayFM for a number of hours – potentially costing the station tens of thousands in ad revenue- it is understood new CEO of SCA Grant Blackley managed to broker a deal involving the above penalties, which it will not appeal.

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

“This is a much more constructive way of ensuing future compliance by 2DayFM with important community safeguards,” said Chapman in a statement.

“The combined approach of the special broadcast and targeted training program, together with the imposition of a new licence condition, presents a positive alternative to what would have otherwise been a brief suspension of 2DayFM’s licence.”

The controversy centres on a Southern Cross Austereo broadcast from the December 2012 where it broadcast a prank call which saw hosts Mel Greig and Michael ‘MC’ Christian, who were impersonating Prince Charles and The Queen, put through to the ward where the then pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness.

Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who put the call through to the ward, took her own life days later.

The station will be made to either suspend advertising during the three-hour special broadcast, or donate all proceeds to charity.

The new licence condition specifies the station will not broadcast the words of an identifiable person “unless that person has (a) been informed in advance that the words may be broadcast or (b) if recorded without the person’s knowledge, they have consented to the broadcast of the words”.

In a statement chairman of Southern Cross Austereo Peter Bush said the company will accept the ruling adding: “It goes without question that 2DayFM and its presenters intended no harm to anyone as a result of the prank call.

“We accept the ACMA’s finding that 2DayFM was in breach when it failed to obtain consent from the nurses involved before broadcasting the recording of the prank call.

“While both NSW State and Commonwealth police decided the matter should not be prosecuted and the station did not identify the people on the call by name, we accept the ACMA’s view that consent of parties must be obtained before such calls are broadcast.

“2Day FM deeply regrets and apologises for its breaches and has agreed with the ACMA several actions that will betaken in response to the matter.”

The deal comes in the wake of the High Court ruling following a long court battle allowing the ACMA to publish a report that found 2DayFM was both “highly exploitative” and “personally degrading and humiliating” and breached two clauses of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice. It also said the licensee committed a criminal offence under the Surveillance Devices Act.

SCA had sought to suppress the report claiming the ACMA had overstepped its bounds by acting as “accuser and fact finder” in the case.

Christian and Grieg

Christian and Grieg

Following the court ruling legal experts told Mumbrella the broadcast regulator had been given real “teeth” in punishing networks infringing its codes.

In the wake of the High Court ruling both the TV and radio industry bodies called for urgent legislative reform to curb the ACMA’s powers. 

The deal comes as HitFM and particularly 2DayFM struggles in the ratings and is hoping for a revival in its fortunes on the back of a return to drive by Hamish Blake and Andy Lee.

Nic Christensen 

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