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2Day FM outrage: people power trumps regulators

The massive community backlash from the so-called royal prank-gone-wrong by two shock jocks on 2Day FM says a lot about the power of the people rather than the power of a company’s board or the regulators.

So powerful was the community outcry when news spread that the prank had tragically culminated in the death of a nurse at King Edward VII Hospital that advertisers started to withdraw their advertising from the show and the company was forced to suspend it.

It was a similar community reaction to the comments made a few weeks ago by Alan Jones about the Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s father with suggestions that he had died of shame.

The regulator did nothing but consumers took to Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms, attacking the advertisers until they buckled under the pressure and withdrew their advertising. It also prompted Macquarie Radio Network to announce the temporary suspension of all advertising in its breakfast show and called it “21st century censorship via cyber bullying”.

In like fashion, the prospect of suspending the 2Day FM show along with the desertion of advertisers extended to the sharemarket, with the listed entity’s stock Southern Cross Media Group falling 6 per cent, as investors punted that the loss of advertisers would have a significant impact on the bottom line.

It is part of Australia’s culture to crack jokes but this time the joke turned from black comedy to a nightmare for all concerned.

It is yet another example of the power of social media to exert huge pressure on companies rather than the ineffectual regulators.

Just last week, Starbucks bowed to public pressure and pledged to pay taxes in the UK, despite regulators not being able to sanction the company for avoiding tax in the past three years as it was technically operating within the law. However, the consumer backlash - including people protesting outside its stores and the potentially huge damage to the brand - led to the company "volunteering" to pay 20 million pounds in tax.

Starbucks issued a statement that was gobsmacking but spoke volumes about the power of consumer and community backlashes. It said “it would pay a significant amount of tax during 2013 and 2014 regardless of whether the company is profitable during these years".

Starbucks told the BBC the company had "listened to our customers" and was "making a number of changes in our business to ensure we pay corporation tax in the UK" - something it urged UK Uncut and other concerned parties to "carefully consider".

There is no arguing that the 2Day FM prank was in poor taste but the tragedy that followed could never have been imagined. Nor do we know the background to it.

What we do know is the culture at Southern Cross Media Group is nasty and allows shock jocks to pull pranks all the time. The idea of a joke is everyone laughs, rather than it being at some unsuspecting person’s expense.

The board sets values for a company and if management takes decisions that are in contravention of the company’s values then something has to be done. Investors and directors of Southern Cross Media need to look at those values to see where they are falling short.

In this case the company has come out and said every attempt was made to ask for approval to run the pre-recorded tape but time ran out and it went to air and received lots of attention, which the station would have loved, until it all went horribly wrong.

What does it say about the brand? Does it put the quest for top ratings ahead of values?

With the power of social media growing exponentially, the debate is just about to begin.


  • My God, this gets worse, as a country you just dont get it do you?
    Australia has not looked so ugly on the world stage since the Tampa incident.

    Date and time
    December 10, 2012, 1:27PM
    • As a country we get it. As a national press corps ... maybe not.

      Yes it's in the Australian nature to crack jokes. But this "joke" was always going be at someone else's expense. Hopefully it's not in the Australian nature to crack jokes with complete disregard to their obvious outcomes.

      No one would have anticipated the tragic consequence which actually ensued. However, it should have been blindingly clear from the beginning that there was a better than even chance that any nurse who did fall for their trap would loose their job, or at the very least face serious disciplinary action. Not a nice Xmas present in Britain's current economic climate.

      That was not something that mattered, or even entered into consideration, apparently.

      James K
      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 1:58PM
    • "As a country..." - get your hand off it, sunshine. At worst we have some uncreative people working in our media. People don't look at the English press then judge the remaining populous based on the outcome of the Leveson enquiry.

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 2:12PM
    • So the whole country looks bad over a lousy phone prank? Give me a break!

      How many people out there could have predicted the poor nurse committing suicide over a stupid prank?

      Rainier Wolfcastle
      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 2:23PM
    • Maybe....

      But I would be more worried about the working environment at the King Edward VII Hospital.

      Practically this is the real issue.

      Yes, its incredibly bad taste to prank call a hospital and perhaps quite negligent/and or illegal given the work they do.(health care, law enforcement and other emergency services should be and I am suprised they are not legally off limits).

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 2:58PM
    • Sorry Frank but it does reflect on our country. Leave aside the tragic death of the nurse - how is it funny to broadcast the private medical information of a young woman, pregnant with her first child and ill enough to require hospitalization? And the fact that it was pre-recorded and approved by management just shows an appalling lack of judgement. The story is news around the world and always prefixed by the words "Australian radio prank". As a proud Australian I was embarrassed before the tragic death of the nurse. Now I'm horrified.

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 3:00PM
    • You're right.
      And it doesn't help that two columnists of this publication completely and conveniently ignore the fact that these DJs went overboard and invaded medical privacy.

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 3:09PM
    • I think we are seeing is a culture clash between an Indian ‘shame based’ culture and our Western ‘guilt based’ culture. Shame or guilt being the dominant emotional response to a transgression. The responses represent different ways of looking at the world.

      Guilt is a feeling and/or a condition occurring when one has broken or not kept a law, while shame is a feeling and/or a condition stemming from a shortcoming in one’s state of being.

      The amount of guilt felt is related to the extent of the transgression (a small clerical mistake). The amount of shame felt is related to the outcome, (world wide media attention. breach of confidentiality of the heir to the throne of England).

      I don't think we understand why she would have killed herself bescase in our eyes her mistake was small, therefore the amount of guilt she should have felt was minor. But in her thinking it is likely she would have felt accute shame from the media circus.

      I think the tabloids have played more of a role in this tradgedy than they realise.

      Perhaps forgiveness is a better response to a tradgedy like this...

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 3:19PM
    • @ Barney
      Surely hospitals and their staff are pressured and overworked enough without having to deal with irresponsible media organisations who waste the hospital staff's valuable time trying to create low cost lowest common denominator entertainment for commeical benefit and shock value by embarassing and humiliating these decent people. The juvenile overpaid shock jocks could learn a thing or two about public service from these decent, hardworking, honorable people.

      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 3:26PM
    • Of all the colonies no other country has gone nuts as Australia on news of the so called "royal baby"... maybe its time for Australian media to come back to the ground and get a sense that its only a women giving birth to a normal child and nothing else.
      None of the fellow colonies - NZ, Canada, West Indies, Singapore, etc have gone gaga as Aus.. if someone has been hearing radio or watching tv lately...

      Sick of Royalty
      Date and time
      December 10, 2012, 3:44PM

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2day FM radio hosts Mel Greig (L) and Michael Christian, pose in Sydney in this picture obtained by Reuters on December 8, 2012. The two presenters from Australia's 2Day radio station called a London hospital that was treating Prince William's pregnant wife Kate for morning sickness early on Tuesday British time, pretending to be William's grandmother Queen Elizabeth and his father, the heir-to-the throne Prince Charles. A nurse who answered the prank call has been found dead, the hospital said on Friday, in a suspected suicide. REUTERS/Southern Cross Austereo/Handout (AUSTRALIA - Tags: ROYALS ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. NO COMMERCIAL USE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED RECEIVED BY REUTERS AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS Former 2Day FM DJ criticises call

Wendy Harmer, a former 2Day FM presenter, says she wouldn't have agreed to the hospital prank call which has left the station facing international criticism following the death of the nurse who answered it. Lifeline: 13 11 14

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