TV and radio industry calls for curbs to ACMA’s powers following nurse prank call ruling

2DayFMTV and radio industry bodies have rallied around Southern Cross Austereo after this morning’s High Court judgment that the media watchdog had the authority to say 2DayFM broke the law by airing the high profile royal prank call, saying it has serious implications for the entire industry.

After this morning’s unanimous ruling SCA issued a statement claiming it meant the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) could now “judge the criminal guilt of broadcasters”, describing it as a “serious defect in Australian broadcasting law” and vowing to get the law changed “as a matter of urgency.”

The ruling means the ACMA is now free to issue a report which had been suppressed previously which finds the network breached NSW surveillance las by secretly recording and broadcasting the call. However, the company says it has been told by police there will be no criminal charges against it.

Today the ACMA welcomed the decision, but declined to say what sanctions it will look to implement, which could include suspending 2DayFM’s broadcast licence.

“It is wrong for the broadcasting regulator to be able to decide whether a commercial broadcaster is guilty of committing an offence against an Australian state, territory or commonwealth law including laws where ACMA has no expertise, experience or jurisdiction,” SCA said in a statement.

“This is an important to note that the case for the entire commercial broadcasting industry which is why Free TV Australia and Commercial Radio Australia sought to intervene in the case. Southern Cross Austereo will join with other broadcasters in seeking to have the law changed as a matter of urgency.”



Industry body Commercial Radio Australia echoed SCA’s call for the law to be changed to rein back ACMA’s powers.

CEO of CRA Joan Warner said in a statement: “The industry will be studying the ruling and determining what this now means for all broadcasters across the country, and whether any legislative change may be required.”

While television industry body Free TV Australia also denounced the decision and argued the Broadcasting Services Act would need to be changed.

“Effectively, the ACMA can act as policeman, judge and jury, despite the fact that it is not set- up to determine criminal law matters,” said Free TV Australia, in a statement. “Free TV calls on the Government to immediately amend the relevant provisions in the Broadcasting Services Act to address the implications of today’s findings for the wider industry.”

The ACMA’s victory today comes after a two year legal battle which saw authority accused of overstepping its powers by 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.

“This decision is welcomed by the ACMA,” said Chris Chapman chairman of the ACMA. “It provides clarity regarding the operation of the licence condition that prohibits broadcasters from using their broadcasting service in the commission of an offence.”

The watchdog will now move to publish its investigation report into the matter and will over the coming weeks look what sanctions it will impose.

Those penalties include a range of options from cancelling to suspending its licence, seeking an enforceable undertaking to seek future compliance, forcing remedial action, pursuing civil penalties in Federal Court and referring the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The ACMA declined to specify the severity of the sanctions it is considering.

However, SCA has move to preempt the possibility of criminal sanctions by noting that NSW and Federal Police had both told it last week they had found no breach of the law in their investigations.

According to their statement the police of both forces looking into whether the station and 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 and have chosen not to prosecute.

“These findings by the police forces who have the jurisdiction, experience and expertise to investigate the lawfulness of the recording of telephone calls is consistent with the position of SCA that the making, recording and broadcast of the call did not breach any law, code or regulation,” said the company.

Nic Christensen 

Related coverage:


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.