ACMA given leave to contest 2DayFM ruling in Australia’s highest court over nurse prank call

2dayThe prolonged court battle between the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and Southern Cross Austereo’s 2DayFM over the right to publish a contentious report into a prank call which led to the suicide of a British nurse is set to be heard by Australia’s highest court.

Last Friday the ACMA was given leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia against a ruling in March in favour of the radio station preventing it from publishing a report which is understood to find the station committed a criminal offence by airing the prank call.

The case relates to the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who took her own life in December 2012 after she had put through a prank call by hosts Mel Greig and Michael ‘MC’ Christian, who were impersonating Prince Charles and The Queen, to the ward where the then pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for acute morning sickness.

In March the Federal Court upheld an appeal by 2DayFM which had claimed the ACMA was acting as “accuser and fact finder” in creating the report, which is believed to state the station breached the NSW Surveillance Devices Act by airing the secretly recorded call without seeking permission from the nurse or hospital.

That offence would also constitute the station breaching its radio broadcast licence conditions, opening up the possibility it could be taken off air.

However, at a hearing held quietly on Friday the ACMA, being represented by Solicitor General of the Commonwealth Justin Gleeson, was given leave to appeal the the highest court in the land over the decision.

The outcome of the hearing has ramifications not just for the ACMA but all government bodies and the way they handle investigations and findings in the future.

The ACMA declined to comment on the ruling, but SCA CEO Rhys Holleran said in a statement: “All commercial radio and television broadcasters are very concerned that the Australian Communications and Media Authority decided several years ago to reverse its previous application of broadcasting law and to judge for itself the alleged criminal guilt of broadcasters rather than leaving that judgement to the courts based on proper evidence.

“Southern Cross Austereo considers that the unanimous decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court is completely correct and will continue to argue its position in the High Court.”

No date has yet been set for the hearing.

Alex Hayes


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