Australian High Court Ruling gets radio’s attention

AussieHighcourtIf you think you are having a bad day, spare a thought for the people who run 2Day FM in Sydney Australia.

The “royal prank” call broadcast on 2Day FM could lead to the cancellation of Austereo’s broadcasting licence after the Australian High Court found the broadcast media watchdog has the power to make an adverse finding against a licensee.

The call, in which 2Day FM hosts Michael Christian and Mel Greig impersonated the Queen and Prince Charles, was made to the London hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for morning sickness. The call,  triggered international outrage after Jacintha Saldanha, one of the nurses who was tricked, later killed herself.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority investigated the broadcast on December 4, 2012 and ruled the station had committed a criminal offence under the Surveillance Devices Act.

Using a broadcasting licence in the commission of a criminal offence can lead to the suspension or cancellation of that licence.

2Day FM acknowledged that it had not obtained the consent of either of the two hospital staff spoken to as part of the prank before broadcasting the segment, but it did not accept that it had committed any offence.

It sought to have the watchdog permanently restrained from finding it had breached its licence conditions, arguing it should not be allowed to make a finding or take action until a criminal court has found the offence proven

2Day FM lost its case in the Federal Court but was successful on appeal. On Wednesday, a six-judge panel of the High Court found in favour of ACMA.

A spokeswoman for Southern Cross Austereo, Nikki Clarkson, said the decision “means that there is a serious defect in Australian broadcasting law”.

“It is wrong for the broadcasting regulator to be able to itself decide whether a commercial television or radio broadcaster is guilty of committing an offence against any Australian state, territory or Commonwealth law including laws where the ACMA has no expertise, experience or jurisdiction,” Ms Clarkson said.

Ms Clarkson said the company had been advised last week by NSW Police and Australian Federal Police that recording and broadcasting the call did not breach the Surveillance Devices Act, the federal Telecommunications Interception Act, or any other law.

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