ACMA chair refuses to rule out suspending 2DayFM’s licence over royal prank call

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

The chairman of the broadcast watchdog has refused to rule out temporarily suspending the licence of 2DayFM as punishment for breaching its licence conditions over the royal prank call broadcast in 2012.

Yesterday Mumbrella revealed The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is mulling taking the station off air for a few hours, after a ruling in the High Court on Wednesday that it did have the authority to make adjudications as to criminal guilt in determining a breach of law, allowing it to release a suppressed report which says the broadcaster broke NSW surveillance laws by broadcasting the prank call by two Today’s Hit Network DJs.

“The authority hasn’t made any decisions about what sanctions are appropriate,” ACMA chairman Chris Chapman told ABC Media Report. “In the first instance we will publish the full report and then we will give further considerations to what sanctions… we haven’t decided where to go from there.”

Challenged by host Richard Aedy on suggestions the ACMA is actively considering suspending the licence of Sydney radio station 2Day Hit 104.1 for several hours he responded: “I hear that. I’m not going respond to it at this stage. I am only one of seven members of the authority. We will in due course consider what sanctions are appropriate.”

Mumbrella revealed yesterday a suspension could cost the station around $100,000 per day in ad revenue, based on Standard Media Index booking data.

Chapman did note the ACMA would begin with negotiations with 2DayFM and its parent company Southern Cross Austereo.

“My recollection is that we said to the court that we wouldn’t publish (the report) without 14 days notice to the licensee,” he said. “I think consistent with that undertaking it won’t be in the next two weeks. ”

“We will have a discussion with the licensee. That would be a logical starting point.”

ACMA has the power after finding that the station breached its radio broadcast licence conditions, to suspend or cancel the radio licence, impose enforceable undertakings to force future compliance, or further licence conditions.

Speaking to Aedy, Chapman did rule out licence cancellation of the broadcaster’s licence, but said he could not put a timeline on when a punishment would be announced.

“The ACMA is a very responsible decision making body, we deal with the facts and circumstances and we like to come up with what is a fit for purpose sanction. In that context it is inconceivable that we would cancel their licence.

“This matter has been before us for some time. It is in everyone’s interest for it to be brought to a conclusion as is quickly as possible but I can’t put a timeline on it.”

Chapman also acknowledged the statements of Southern Cross Austereo, Commercial Radio Australia and Free TV Australia denouncing the High Court decision and calling for the law to be changed.

“At the end of the day the ACMA is just going about its job,” he said.

Asked about claims they were acting as “judge, jury and executioner” he responded: “(ACMA) takes it seriously… but if anyone has taken the time to read the High Court decision it makes it clear that in confirming the ACMA’s power to make an administrative determination, we are not about judging criminal guilt. The High Court decision couldn’t be clearer.

“The High Court ruling has really just confirmed the powers of the ACMA at the tougher end of the powers we have.”

Nic Christensen  

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