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Prank results in Austereo advertising blackout

BROADCASTER Southern Cross Austereo cut its losses quickly - and perhaps only temporarily - with a swift decision on Saturday to pull all advertising from the Sydney station at the centre of the royal phone prank scandal.

Hit early in the day by the one-two punch of corporate giants Coles and Telstra removing their advertising, by mid-afternoon management had reached for what it is becoming a well-established playbook for radio scandal: it pulled all commercials from the network until at least Monday.

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''They want to keep their advertisers happy and they just pulled the advertising, only on 2DayFM 104.1 in Sydney, at least until Monday, just to keep advertisers happy right now,'' said spokeswoman Sandy Kaye, the media management expert advising the station.

By 2.30pm, Austereo boss Rhys Holleran was fronting the media - and though he wasn't admitting it then, the network had apparently already decided going to take the required dramatic step.

As the Holleran press conference was still going on, Woolworths was telling Fairfax Media there was no need to pull its ads in line with Coles - because Austereo had already told the company it was going to remove all advertising from 2DayFM, effective immediately.

Austereo knows the territory well, by virtue of various scandals involving presenter Kyle Sandilands, and with the recent Alan Jones controversy at rival broadcaster Macquarie also fresh in mind.


Ms Kaye is a Melbourne-based ''media management'' specialist whose offerings, according to her Sandy Kaye Presents website, include ''controlling a crisis''. Clients are advised: ''Response is an element of a successful media strategy, but in the modern 24-hour news cycle, preparation is the definite key.''

It was Ms Kaye who called an abrupt halt to Mr Holleran's news conference, and who later confirmed the advertising blackout. She told Fairfax Media it was preferable to the drip-drip-drip of one advertiser after another announcing desertion.

''I guess it probably is,'' she said. ''They're not words that have been given me, but I guess that's the understanding. The words that we're given me were, 'In order to keep advertisers happy'.''

There are potentially big sums involved, but it can be difficult to assess how hard advertiser boycotts really hurt the bottom line.

At its annual meeting last month, Macquarie chairman Russell Tate estimated the Jones boycott cost the network about $1.5 million.

At the press conference, Mr Holleran said hosts Christian and Greig were ''completely shattered''. He said the hosts and the company had mutually decided they would not return to air until further notice ''out of respect''.

''[This is] a tragic event that could not have reasonably been foreseen. We are confident we haven't done anything illegal.''

He refused to state at what point the company obtained legal advice, or to elaborate on its prank call policies and guidelines. Austereo has already had two licence conditions imposed upon it: one relating to decency following Sandilands' ''fat slag'' remarks and one relating to the protection of children, sparked by the infamous lie-detector segment.

Mr Holleran would not say if Austereo was now worried about losing its broadcasting licence. He said the company had expressed its regret in a statement but had not contacted the nurse's family directly.

■For help or information, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au