2Day FM And Austereo Ignore Smackdown From Uncle Fairfax

As the scandal of 2Day FM’s ill-advised and tragic “stunt” rolls on — unresolved — a new heavyweight voice has been added today to the chorus of opprobrium; irrespective of what people think of Fairfax and its journalistic priorities, dear old Uncle has scored a direct hit.

In this modern era of risk minimisation, shifting blame, denial of liability and distinctly unethical and disreputable business practice, there always remains a glimmer of hope that large companies will take their responsibilities as corporate citizens seriously.

Today I wish to direct readers to a comprehensive list of questions assembled by Fairfax journalist Michael Lallo and posed twice to management at 2Day FM parent company Southern Cross Austereo and its CEO, the unconvincing media performer Rhys Holleran.

My understanding is that no real response was forthcoming initially, and — as readers will see — none is forthcoming now.

My comment is very simply that it beggars belief that a company of the purported standing of Austereo could think it possible to ignore the events which transpired a couple of weeks ago in any meaningful sense.

The stonewalling, obfuscation, orchestrated spin and general “heads up the arse” approach that company appears determined to deploy would be inappropriate enough at the best of times, let alone at a time when an involuntary party to 2Day FM’s antics is now dead in the aftermath of its contemptible “stunt” and subsequent on-air self-congratulation and boasting.

Full marks to Fairfax in this case for its pursuit of Southern Cross Austereo for the answers it must provide, if for no other reason than to substantiate the authenticity of its actual concern for the people it has affected in the course of this ghastly episode.

And a memo to Rhys Holleran: be a man, piss the PR hack off, get the lawyers to back off, and actually do something to salvage something from this situation.

In other words, Rhys, do the right thing — 2Day FM already ranks beneath contempt in the esteem of millions of reasonably-minded people; it’s up to you, and only you, to prove otherwise.

Dead Nurse Scandal: 2Day FM Digs Itself Deeper Into Its Hole

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.

Don’t.

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.

 

Morally Culpable: Toxic 2Day FM Stunt Leads To Suicide Of UK Nurse

Once again, Sydney radio station 2Day FM has breached the limits of decency and good taste; its latest stunt — a call from “the Queen” to speak to the Duchess of Cambridge in hospital — appears to have led to the suicide of a British nurse. It is time for 2Day FM to clean up its act.

In the wake of the now-notorious prank phone call by 2Day FM presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the suicide of one of the nurses they spoke to is a tragedy, and I want to begin by adding my voice to so many others who have expressed sympathy and condolence of the deceased, 46 year old mother of two Jacintha Saldanha.

That said, 2Day FM is a serial miscreant when it comes to outrages against decency, good taste and acceptable standards of behaviour, and I think the time has come when something needs to be done about its apparently amoral and narcissistic social view, its rank disregard for the consideration of anyone who crosses its path, and the vexed question of the taste and decency (or lack thereof) of the on-air stunts it perpetrates.

Something I would like to address at the outset — given most readers of this column will know I have traditionally been vociferous in my defence of the freedom of the press — is to make clear, very plainly, that 2Day FM, Greig, Christian, and their colleagues are not “the press;” they are part of what I would term the entertainment media.

And therein lies the difference.

This really is a tragic episode; a mother of two children — by all accounts an outstanding nurse, and the primary breadwinner for her family — has seemingly committed suicide in response to her role in the 2Day FM stunt and in the face of a furious public and media backlash in the UK.

It is unclear whether she had any pre-existing mental health issues that may have been triggered, although one report in the UK today did describe her as “a nervous person.” Even so, whether she had any issues or not, it is unforgivable that her state of mind should be tested so publicly in the teeth of public opinion as it has been.

Much has been made by 2Day FM (and by the CEO of parent company Southern Cross Austereo, Rhys Holleran) of the fact the stunt had been prerecorded and vetted by lawyers prior to broadcast.

But did 2Day FM break the law?

For one thing, recording anything without consent poses legal difficulties; it’s a certainty that if the staff at the King Edward VII Hospital had been let in on the gag the entire stunt would have gone nowhere.

Certainly, the dead nurse, if the suicide did relate to the stunt, may well be alive today.

For another thing, however, there are questions around concepts such as fraud, impersonating public officials, obtaining confidential and privileged information by deception and so forth that might not sit so well at the Old Bailey.

But whether the answers to those do or not, there is another, overriding, question: what about some good old-fashioned brains and common sense on the part of 2Day FM and its presenters?

Holleran was quoted in The Age this afternoon as saying that “nobody could have reasonably foreseen” that the prank call might have resulted in a suicide.

But Holleran is wrong, and that’s the point: anyone with a brain at 2Day FM could have reasonably foreseen that its “pranks” over many years were likely to eventually result in adverse consequences; it was, literally, only a matter of time.

Admittedly, 2Day FM’s rap sheet is disproportionately skewed toward the antics of another of its so-called entertainment personalities, Kyle Sandilands, whose dubious achievements include disclosing the rape of a 14 year old girl in a live broadcast, and savaging a journalist as “a fat slag,” “a fat bitter thing,” “a piece of shit,” and a “little troll.”

For good measure, Sandilands’ attack on Ali Stephenson — a Murdoch journalist whose crime was to write an unfavourable review of a TV show Sandilands presented — came with a warning: “Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.”

Yet here we are again; same station, different personnel, ominously familiar story.

No accountability, no standards of any principle, and no consequences — until now.

What would SCA’s response have been if the 14 year old girl, or Stephenson, or any of the long line of other figures its presenters have vilified, defamed, victimised, harassed, or otherwise taken aim at killed themselves? I wonder.

As it is, Sandilands survives on air to this day; it is heartening that Greig and Christian have been suspended, but I would be happier if “suspended” was, in fact, “terminated.”

The chairman of depression support organisation Beyond Blue, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, has expressed concern for the presenters, saying Australians should support rather than crucify the pair for “a prank made in good faith.”

I certainly think Greig and Christian warrant support to ensure their own welfare, but I would also point out that they are not the victims of this incident: they are its perpetrators.

At the very minimum, they deserve to lose their jobs.

And the flood of advertising revenue now being haemorrhaged by 2Day FM — yet again — clearly illustrates that the station’s commercial partners are far better attuned to community standards than the station itself.

It has been widely reported — and not least by the hospital’s management — that the royal family have not made a complaint about the conduct of the two nurses drawn into the 2Day FM stunt, but let’s be honest: in short, they can’t.

Prince William, privately, is said to be livid to the point of seething over what he perceives to be yet another media incursion into his privacy and that of his family; given the fate of his mother, William is perhaps better positioned than most to hold such a view.

His father, Prince Charles, responded brilliantly when asked for a reaction by journalists, laughing the incident off and shutting the question down.

And Palace officials quoted in London newspaper the Daily Mirror said William and Kate were angry at the intrusion and at a loss as to why anyone would find picking on a sick pregnant woman funny.

(Frankly — as an aside — I would note for the record that the call wasn’t even remotely funny; bad accents, poor scripting, incredible presentation and ridiculous dialogue all conspire to a radio segment based on sheer slapstick stupidity, questions of moral judgement notwithstanding).

But can the royals complain publicly? Not without being portrayed as carping whingers leeching off the public purse they can’t, and so their actual reactions must remain private.

Let’s get this into perspective: all of this has happened because Kate Middleton, pregnant, required hospital treatment for a rare but extreme complication of her pregnancy. Viewed from that perspective, the rest of what has been played out in the media this week was utterly, utterly unnecessary.

And sadly, it has cost a good woman her life.

I’m furious that — yet again — 2Day FM has behaved like a law unto itself, this time with fatal consequences, despite ample precedents signalling the need for something to be done about what passes as “entertainment” at the station and is broadcast to millions of listeners.

Its toxic culture and so-called “entertainment” values consistently and increasingly defy what any objective analysis would deem reasonable.

On this occasion, it has played the leading role in turning what should be a cause for international celebration — the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge — into a travesty attracting worldwide rancour that will instead place a stain on that event in history.

And whilst it is certainly true that 2Day FM’s presenters will have to live with the events of the past few days for the rest of their lives, it’s is also fair to assert that had anyone at 2Day FM involved in this exercise — anyone — applied appropriate forethought and analysis to the proposed stunt, it would never have proceeded.

It is to be hoped the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) falls on 2Day FM like the proverbial ton of bricks.