On Saturday afternoon, as I waited for the emergency press conference held by Southern Cross Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran to begin, I started to write a news story about his resignation.
Of course, he wasn’t to blame for the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, but somebody within the company needed to take responsibility, and I suspected they knew it.
With advertisers beginning to pull their support and the global backlash to the Today Network prank call getting underway, it was the only way I could see an end to the issue. If not Holleran, somebody else senior within the organisation.
Holleran’s press conference | Source: Sky News
As you’ll know, it didn’t go down like that. Holleran expressed his sadness and sympathy, but went no further. The story of his resignation remained unpublished.
On Sunday night, I stood by with my story again, as the board of SCA met. With the opening of the ASX hours away, I anticipated decisive action.
Again the story went unpublished. Instead, the next morning I wrote about the $66m fall in the SCA share price.
And on Monday night, we saw presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian make tearful appearances on Seven and Nine, while Holleran stood in for them on Ten when they couldn’t go on.
Thus far, we understand no more about what the media company’s internal approval procedures were – and indeed have been left with the strong impression that neither did Greig and Christian.
But what we do know is that the Southern Cross Media – Austereo merger took place a year-and-a-half ago, and Holleran has been in charge of the company since then. That gives him responsibility for the culture, the procedures and, yes, the share price.
Somebody in the organisation decided that although the call undoubtedly invaded the privacy of a sick person, it was okay to air this because it did not breach the rules. We do not now if there was any internal discussion about the ethics.
In his handful of uncertain media appearances over the last couple of days, Holleran has come across as a decent, if somewhat awkward, man in a difficult situation. He probably had no role in deciding whether to air the call (I’d be amazed if it went that high) – but that does not stop him from being ultimately responsible.
And while it may annoy the Australian media to have the phone-hacking, Royals-stalking British tabloids lecture us on ethics, there is a recent precedent for a media boss taking responsibility for outcomes he had no part in.
Last month, George Entwistle resigned from the BBC after just 54 days in charge. He stepped down after the organisation bungled its investigations into a child abuse scandal. It wasn’t his fault, but he decided it was his responsibility.
The decision to axe the Hot 30 feels like an irrelevance aimed at trying to be seen to be doing something. Noone that I can think of was calling for that show to be axed.
The decision to suspend advertising on 2Day FM feels like a red herring – this was a national show. But thus far, the network has been successful as quarantining the backlash to Sydney’s 2Day FM only. There’s no logical reason to suspend ads on the Sydney station only.
But the problem with this sad tale is that there are no pantomime baddies. Everyone I’ve ever met for SCA have been decent people, whether on air talent or behind the scenes.
As I’ve said previously, nobody from the network has blood on their hands – the outcome was unforeseeable. But that does not mean that nobody should take responsibility.
And I’m not calling for Holleran to resign. But I do think he should consider it.
Until somebody from management takes responsibility, this is not going away.