The Australian radio station behind a hoax phone call to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe morning sickness could face criminal charges for airing the conversation, The AP/Washington Post report.
While the death of a nurse who answered the phone and helped two DJs get confidential information about Kate Middleton’s health may have been suicide, when it comes to a potential criminal case, the liability is on whether a private conversation was broadcast without the permission of the participants.
Violators could be sentenced to prison, but it’s unclear who at radio station 2DayFM or its parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, made the decision to air the call. The DJs have said executives above them made the decision, but a former 2DayFM host who orchestrated many pranks for the station said DJs were always involved in such decisions while she was there, said the story.
Southern Cross Austereo has said the station had tried five times to contact the hospital, but privacy law expert Barbara McDonald said that could prove to be an inadequate defense.
“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,” McDonald, a law professor at the University of Sydney, told The AP/Washington Post. “I don’t know whether it makes the situation better, or worse.”
The New South Wales state Surveillance Devices Act prohibits the broadcast of recorded private conversations without participants’ permission, with violations punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to 55,000 Australian dollars ($58,000).
McDonald said the Commercial Radio Code of Practice has a similar ban, but she added that even if Australia’s media watchdog found violations, the most extreme punishment — loss of license — is almost unheard of.
Australian authorities have said little about any possible investigation. State police have said only that they’ve been in contact with their London counterparts and are ready to assist them in any British investigation.
Southern Cross Austereo also has apologized, and stopped running any ads on 2DayFM following Saldanha’s death. On Tuesday it issued a statement announcing that ads would resume Thursday, with all profits for the rest of December to be donated to “an appropriate fund that will directly benefit” Saldanha’s family. The company said it would donate at least 500,000 Australian dollars ($525,000).
RBR-TVBR observation: The other issue is a lawsuit. King Edward VII Hospital CEO John Lofthouse told The UK Independent it may happen: They’re looking at legal action against the broadcaster. At this point, the DJs and Southern Cross Austereo are doing all they can possibly do to help their case, should it become one.