Australian Prank Call Radio Station May Have Broken Law

The Australian radio station behind a prank phone call to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated could face criminal charges for airing the conversation that resulted in the sudden death of the nurse who unwitting accepted the hoax call.

In an Associated Press report, legal experts say that the Australian radio station, 2Day FM, and its parent company, Southern Cross Austereo might have broken the law

On Monday, Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran said 2DayFM had tried five times, without success, to contact the London hospital to discuss the prank before it aired. The King Edward VII Hospital denied its management had been contacted by 2DayFM. The Australian radio station chose to air the segment anyway. However, under broadcasting rules in Australia, the permission of anyone “caught” in a radio prank must be sought before the call can be put to air.

The New South Wales state Surveillance Devices Act prohibits the broadcast of recorded private conversations without participants’ permission, with violations punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $58,000.

Privacy law expert and University of Sydney law professor Barbara McDonald said:

“Seems to me that saying, ‘We tried to call,’ shows that they knew they should, and they’ve made a decision to go ahead knowing that they have not got permission. I don’t know whether it makes the situation better, or worse.”

According to McDonald, the Commercial Radio Code of Practice has a similar ban, but loss of license, the most extreme punishment, is basically never enacted.

Media law expert Mark Pearson said that direct permission from the person involved must be granted. In this case, that would be Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who picked up the phone and later was found to have committed suicide after the hoax call was broadcast.

Southern Cross Austereo has repeatedly stated that the radio program followed the law when it broadcast the prank call. The company said in a statement Monday that the segment underwent an internal legal review before broadcast.

As of now, Australian authorities have not said whether they will probe into the prank call.

While the Southern Cross Austereo has done everything from canceling the radio program, suspending the prank call DJ’s, and donating advertising revenue to a trust for the nurse’s family, the nurse’s family, the hospital and public are still angry at the station for the hoax call.