Experts: Station's royal hoax call may be illegal
In this image made off video footage recorded Monday, Dec. 10, 2012 and aired later in the day in "A Current Affair" program by Australia's Channel Nine, Australian radio DJs Michael Christian, left, and Mel Greig appear during an interview with the TV station. The two managed to impersonate Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles and received confidential information about the Duchess of Cambridge's medical condition, which was broadcast on-air. The controversial prank took a dark twist three days later with the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, who was duped by the DJs despite their Australian accents. (AP Photo/Channel Nine) AUSTRALIA OUT, TV OUT, NO SALES, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
SYDNEY (AP) — The Australian radio station behind a hoax phone call to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated could face criminal charges for airing the conversation, legal experts said Tuesday.
Last week's prank was widely condemned days after it aired, after the still-unexplained death of a nurse who answered the phone and helped two DJs get confidential information about the former Kate Middleton's health. But when it comes to a potential criminal case, the question is not about the death; it's 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.
Husband of the late nurse Jacintha Saldanha, Benedict Barboza arrives at the Houses of Parliament in central London with daughter Lisha, 14, and son Junal, 16, for a meeting with a British Member of Parliament about Jacintha Saldanha's death Monday Dec, 10, 2012. Saldanha was found dead in central London on Friday, Dec. 7, 2012. Australian radio hosts managed to impersonate Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles and received confidential information about the Duchess of Cambridge's medical condition, in a hoax phone call to the King Edward VII hospital where the pregnant Duchess was staying and which was broadcast on-air. The controversial prank took a dark twist three days later with the death of nurse Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two, who was duped by the DJs despite their Australian accents.(AP Photo /Anthony Devlin/PA) UNITED KINGDOM OUT
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," said McDonald, a law professor at the University of Sydney. "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.