Royal phone prank case tests media regulator’s limits


AUSTRALIA-BRITAIN-ROYALS-BABY-HOSPITAL

A case involving 2Day FM and ACMA has the potential to dramatically extend the powers of the broadcast regulator at a time when the government is keen on media deregulation.

A case involving 2Day FM and the Australian Communications and Media Authority has the potential to dramatically extend the powers of the broadcast regulator at a time when the government is keen on media deregulation. In response, the commercial broadcast media sector has banded together in support of the station, which has been hammered in the ratings of late.

In December 2012, 2Day FM aired a prank call two of its presenters made to the British hospital where Kate Middleton was being treated during her first pregnancy. The nurse who put the call through later committed suicide, which many blamed on the stress caused by the prank call a few days earlier. ACMA has been investigating the episode, but 2Day FM has tried to halt its investigation of whether or not the station did something illegal in recording and airing the call.

In order to achieve what is termed “natural justice”, broadcasters taken to task by ACMA are allowed to read and respond to its draft findings at several stages of the arbitration process (this is why ACMA decisions take so long to be finalised). In a draft report given to 2Day FM, ACMA revealed it was investigating whether the station had breached the NSW Surveillance Devices Act, which prevents the recording of phone calls and the like without the express knowledge and permission of all involved. This was important to ACMA because part of the licensing conditions for commercial use of the public airwaves is that radio stations will not use those airwaves “in the commission of an offence”.

Presented with this, in June 2013, 2Day FM appealed to the Federal Court for orders to restrain the regulator from continuing its investigation, or from making a finding that 2Day FM committed an illegal act.

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