As the fallout from last week’s 2Day FM debacle continues, Southern Cross Austereo is doing itself few favours; its responses thus far amount to little more than an exercise in dodging responsibility and shifting blame, and TV interviews with its presenters last night were a joke.
I’m not going to make any apology for being so blunt about it; having followed this issue since it broke — and following my comments on the subject a few days ago — the actions of Austereo in relation to the matter in that time have been distinctly unimpressive, not to put too fine a point on it.
2Day FM and parent company Southern Cross Austereo seem to be engaged in more of a public relations battle at present, and an exercise in crisis management designed to limit liability on various fronts, than in any meaningful attempt to provide clarity around their conduct or any real sensitivity toward the heartbroken family at the centre of this terrible episode.
If anyone doubts this, I would point them firstly to the press conference given by Austereo’s CEO, Rhys Holleran, immediately after the news of nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death broke (I apologise for the subtitles — I would have used any other clip of this, but there was no other copy of the same segment on YouTube at the time of writing with a completely clean feed).
Readers should note the formulaic responses given by Holleran; the refusal to directly answer questions; and the evasiveness and refusal to provide transparency in regard to internal procedures at the broadcasting giant — and to the fact that the charade was terminated less than four minutes in by a PR minder asking for further queries to be directed to her.
Austereo has claimed that it made five attempts to contact personnel at the Prince Edward VII Hospital following the recording of the “prank” call, with a view to obtaining clearance to broadcast it — a claim vigorously refuted by the hospital, which is adamant that no attempt at contact was made by Austereo and that consequently, no permission was either sought nor given.
This in itself places Austereo between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
Let’s assume the Austereo story — that it made five attempts to get permission to broadcast the “prank” — is correct, and that nobody from the hospital returned any of the calls.
This means that having failed to obtain clearance to proceed, 2Day FM did precisely that, and went ahead to do whatever it liked.
It’s not a good look; and if the attempts were indeed made, I suspect hospital personnel were too busy doing what they were supposed to be doing — running their hospital — to be bothered with what was probably perceived as some trivial “prank” facilitated by a radio station 20,000 kilometres away.
On the flipside of this, of course, is the prospect that the hospital’s story is the correct one, and that no attempt was ever made by Austereo to contact it.
Either way, no permission to use the recorded telephone call was ever provided to Austereo — which is one thing that both sides agree on.
The point is relevant because of a debate that has swirled around this episode, and Austereo’s management of it: did 2Day FM require explicit permission to broadcast the call?
It goes to questions raised in this column on Saturday around fraud, deception, and the acquisition and use of privileged and confidential information by deception that have subsequently also been raised by legal entities associated with the matter, both in Australia and the UK.
And these questions were certainly not answered in any way at all by the farcical interviews given last night to Today Tonight and A Current Affair by the 2Day FM presenters at the epicentre of the scandal, Mel Greig and Michael Christian.
I know that in saying these interviews were part of a cynical and carefully stage-managed public relations effort, conducted for no better purpose than to deflect blame from Southern Cross Austereo, I’m probably not going to be popular; I’ve seen the polls in all of the news sites today, and it seems that everyone is buying the line that Greig and Christian should be held faultless.
Have another look at those interviews through the links provided, and think back to that original press conference by Rhys Holleran, and listen very carefully.
Almost the entire substance of what the duo say — across both interviews — is either a direct rehash of the statements made by Holleran or a plethora of variations on them that all say, effectively, precisely the same thing.
Whose idea was the call? “The whole team talked about it.”
“I don’t think anyone could have expected or foreseen what was going to happen. It was all completely innocent.”
“It was fun and lighthearted and a tragic turn of events that I don’t think anyone could have predicted.”
And in one exchange with Mel Greig, Tracy Grimshaw tried to get to the bottom of “The Process” — the exalted but mysterious means by which all is apparently decided at Austereo — in her interview with the 2Day FM pair on ACA:
TG: “What is the process? Who do you hand (items requiring approval for broadcast) on to? I think a lot of people want to know.”
MG: “I honestly don’t know the process.”
TG: “Presumably it goes to your producer?”
MG: “No, there’s a whole team.”
TG: “Lawyers? Management?”
MG: “People far above us.”
Prior to the interviews being broadcast, Southern Cross Austereo went to great lengths to explain that the presenters themselves had asked to face the media; a lot of noise was made about the fact they wanted to show their faces so they could speak to the family of the nurse who committed suicide in the wake of the “prank” in an attempt to show they were genuinely concerned and upset at their loss.
I will say that having watched both interviews, I do now feel some considerable sympathy for Greig; I believe she showed real emotion, and it was obvious she was deeply and desperately upset that the “prank” phone call to the hospital had backfired with such tragic consequences.
Nonetheless, she still regurgitated the same formulaic non-answers as everyone else at Austereo has done to date.
Christian, for his part, made his way through both interviews almost literally doing nothing but regurgitating the formula — like an automaton — that has clearly been devised by the company’s lawyers and/or PR advisers.
The only time he showed any emotion whatsoever was for a few short seconds during the ACA interview, when he turned away from the camera and appeared to briefly sob.
And rather than offering any solace to the family of the deceased nurse, I would expect that any member of her family that viewed the ghastly spectacle would be even more upset and outraged than they already were.
Yet still, the greasy PR stunts continue to ooze from the Austereo stable; designed to con the public and deflect blame, these steps in the PR campaign it is waging should be recognised for the red herrings they are.
In the latest purported gesture of magnanimity — whilst continuing to deny any liability or responsibility whatsoever — Austereo has now pledged that all profits generated by 2Day FM “for the remainder of the year” will be donated to ”an appropriate memorial fund” that will ”directly benefit the family of Jacintha Saldanha.”
All 18 days’ worth, with at least the first day or two bringing in no revenue owing to a self-imposed suspension of advertising, and with two public holidays included.
There is no elaboration as to what might constitute “an appropriate memorial fund” in the eyes of Austereo management.
Austereo says it will pay a ”minimum contribution of $500,000,” which sounds suspiciously like an awful lot of money over an incident the company is going to every length imaginable to deny any form of liability over.
In fact, it sounds suspiciously like “go-away money.”
And in a mean-spirited gesture that really does stink of the worst act of the charlatan, Austereo has announced that its 2012 Sydney staff Christmas party — replete with a reported $13,000 bar tab for some 250 employees — has been cancelled “out of respect for nurse Jacintha Saldanha and her family.”
There are three points to make here.
One, Austereo says it will donate the money set aside to pay for the party to Beyond Blue and Lifeline; there is no input from Saldanha’s family into a preferred charity.
This leads to…two, which might not be surprising when it is pointed out that by donating the money to Australian charities, Austereo is able to claim a sizeable deduction against its corporate tax bill; frankly, and in the circumstances, I think the money ought to be going to a British charity nominated by the hospital and/or the family of its deceased employee, but that would be too much to ask of the company given its conduct to date.
And three — and this is relevant folks — the decision to cancel the Christmas function means that all of the Austereo staff in sales, administration and production, who have long been on the receiving end of the direct public fallout from a litany of scandals emanating from the on-air antics of 2Day FM’s presenters, won’t even get to have an end of year celebration with their workmates.
Unless they organise and pay for it themselves.
So let’s not be under any delusions that Austereo is doing anyone, apart from itself, a favour by knocking the Christmas party on the head.
In closing, it should be reiterated that there is a lot more to be played out in the 2Day FM “prank” call scandal; there are enquiries underway in both the UK and Australia that will take some time, and there are questions of legalities and misconduct that, too, will be investigated and resolved in due course.
Perhaps Austereo might do more good by abandoning its public relations offensive and its empty words and gestures, and let these more meaningful activities run their course.
Again, I would urge readers not to be hoodwinked by all of this; it has all the hallmarks of a disgustingly cynical attempt to wriggle away from any responsibility whatsoever, and by whatever means — however ruthless — necessary.
After all, to listen to Southern Cross Austereo, nobody is directly liable or responsible for anything: there’s always somewhere else to point the finger, if only in the direction of meaningless and oft-repeated conceptual entities such as “The Process.”
And for those readers who could be forgiven for not remembering how all of this started in the first place, the Duchess of Cambridge has now recovered well enough to be discharged from the King Edward VII Hospital, and is continuing her pregnancy whilst resting at home with her family.