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Sorrow over pranked nurse's death

Londoners express sadness at the suspected suicide of a nurse who answered a prank call from an Australian radio station about pregnant British royal Kate.

PT1M8S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2b35s 620 349

COMMENT

What senior radio insiders have been telling me for some time now appears to be inevitable - that the controversial antics of 2Day FM will drag the entire commercial Australian radio industry into a new era of tighter regulation.

And is the industry happy about that?

They should be. What we have in place now is a set of guidelines developed by the industry called the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice.

It contains guidelines, not laws, and the Australian Communications and Media Authority is there to administer.

None of these pages in the codes, as far as I can see, covers the etiquette, rules, morality, hilarity, stupidity or otherwise of ''prank calls''. And that's probably for a very good reason. The ''prank'', ''gotcha'' or ''phoney'' call has been around forever.

In the 1960s Jerry Lewis was a lover of the prank call. They've become a staple of radio shows worldwide for decades and now, via the internet, online prank calls are widely circulated.

Prank calls range from silly nuisance calls, like those from Bart Simpson to Moe's Tavern, to something far more serious involving bomb threats to police and harassment of emergency services. And some fake calls have even gained international whistleblower status through impersonations of political figures like Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who got through to Queen Elizabeth II.

All of this leaves us pondering just where this latest call from 2Day FM finds its place? It could be seen as just silly (complete with background noise of barking corgis), as harassment of nursing staff going about their vital work, or as whistleblowing in that it exposes the appalling lack of security afforded the future queen of England.

We will all have our views - many expressed with the benefit of 20/20 rear vision - and it seems there's little point arguing about it endlessly.

Except that, in this most unfortunate turn of events, a nurse, valued worker, wife and mother has died and we must all have confidence this never happens again. That confidence will only come with adherence to the ACMA Code of Practice.

It is not as difficult as one would imagine.

There is one part of the code I can see that covers such calls.

It's right there in ''Code of Practice 6: Interviews and Talkback Programs.''

It states … ''A licensee must not broadcast the words of an identifiable person unless:

a) That person has been informed in advance or a reasonable person would be aware that the words may be broadcast.

b) In the case of words which have been recorded without the knowledge of that person, that person has subsequently, but prior to the broadcast, expressed consent to the broadcast of their words.''

In some 11 years as part of the 2Day FM Morning Crew, I took this as my guide, in the absence of anything else. Although I would never be so silly to say, as party to many prank calls, I didn't transgress.

However, to be confident in putting a prank call to air, it should be pre-recorded and permission gained from the person being pranked.

It's that part of showbiz - from Candid Camera to Prank Patrol - called the ''reveal''.

That bit where everyone jumps out and says ''Smile …'' and the audience is able to sigh, knowing that no real harm has been done and everyone is in on the gag.

The management of 2Day FM say they have not broken the law. They seem confident in their assertion.

No one wants to shut down humour and satire - we'll all be the poorer for it.

However, I do believe that with adherence and respect for this one rule - that you should not have your voice aired on radio without your explicit permission - a lot of heartache, humiliation and worse can be avoided.

If we have to go down the path of further regulation? It seems that, overwhelmingly, Australian community wants just that assurance.

So let's get on with it and get back to the silly, wonderful and inventive entertainment that radio can deliver and that so many of us enjoy.

Wendy Harmer is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the daily online women's magazine The Hoopla.

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