Australian Regulator Opens Probe Into Radio Station's Kate Middleton Prank Call

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If found guilty of breaches of its license conditions or the commercial radio code of practice, the station could lose its broadcasting license.

SYDNEY – Australia’s broadcasting regulator has taken the unusual  step of fast tracking a formal investigation into  radio station 2Day FM’s involvement in the death of English nurse Jacintha Saldanha last week.

Saldanha committed suicide after two DJs from the station, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, prank called the King George VII hospital  where she was working. They pretended to  be the Queen and Prince Charles, getting confidential information about the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton during the call.

In a statement the Australian Communications and Media Authority said the investigation “will focus on the compliance of the licensee, Today FM Sydney Pty Ltd, with its license conditions and the Commercial Radio Codes of Practise.”

Chris Chapman, chairman of the ACMA said: "The ACMA’s formal regulatory relationship is always with the relevant licensee (and not the presenters of any broadcast in question). The ACMA will be examining whether the licensee has complied with its broadcasting obligations."

Normally the ACMA would not conduct an investigation until the broadcaster has gone through a rigorous complaints process. But ACMA has fast tracked this investigation as 2Day FM is already the subject of several license conditions imposed by the regulator after other stunts by its star, Kyle Sandilands, in the last 18 months were found to have breached the code.

The inquiry is expected to focus on the processes that 2Day FM used to approve the broadcast of the prank call and who approved it.

ACMA says that parts of the code include “that a licensee must not broadcast the words of an identifiable person unless that person has been informed in advance or a reasonable person would be aware that the words may be broadcast; or In the case of words which have been recorded without the knowledge of the person, that person has subsequently, but prior to the broadcast, expressed consent to the broadcast of the words.”

Rhys Holleran, the CEO of 2Day FM’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo, says 2Day FM called the hospital five times to seek permission to use the call but the hospital denies being contacted by the station.

The station’s broadcast license could be canceled or suspended or be subject to tighter restrictions and a fine. The Industry Code may also need to be tightened some observers say.

Holleran has repeatedly said this week that the company does not believe its DJ’s acted illegally or that the station has breached its broadcast license conditions or the Code.

However the company said Tuesday that it would donate all its profits until Dec. 31, starting with a minimum AUS$500,000, to a memorial fund for Jacintha Saldanha.

Holleran said Thursday, “Southern Cross Austereo welcomes the opportunity to participate in the ACMA investigation and will fully co-operate.”