Monday, December 10, 2012

Who Protects Us From Stupid?

It was a bit of fun that flouted the rules, says Jonathon Holmes. The outrage is another example of nanny statism by meddling lefties, says Tim Blair. Yes, yes.  But has anyone considered that the now infamous hoax call to Kate Middleton merely confirmed (yet again)  the utter stupidity of our media and the people who mindlessly consume it?

Clearly, there has always been a substantial commercial market for juvenile stunts at the expense of others. And when those stunts are directed at the high-flown and privileged, it's hard to argue they are any more than harmless fun. What green-blooded republican Australian doesn't get a kick from poking fun at an anachronistic class structure built on the notion that some flesh and blood individuals walk on a different planet to the rest of us?

But there has to be a line with these things. Kate Middleton may have married into The Firm, but she was still just a woman in hospital being treated for complications related to her pregnancy. Yes, of course, it was probably just morning sickness. But with the sacred seraphim within three or four arms' length of the throne, no risks are taken either with patient or privacy. And that might help explain the sort of pressures the nurse felt.

In those circumstances, an astute producer/program director should have decided that the proper decision was not to seek to breach the sacred vow of confidentiality between patient and medical practitioner.  Yes, the idea of the Royal Family is ridiculous and invites adolescent colonial tomfoolery, but there are other avenues to do that. And in any case, who needs the aggravation?

Others have pointed out that ethical considerations (beyond the law) almost certainly were not take into account in deciding to put this stunt to air. That is because the DJs are not journalists (and supposedly subject to a code of ethics), but entertainers.  And to me, this gets to the crux of it. What price does the public put on its own entertainment? Is it anything within the law? Or should we be thinking about what this sort of pushing-the-envelope pranksterism (typified at its worst by Kyle Sandilands on the same station) says about us and the society we live in? Dennis Muller of Melbourne University sums it up:
 "It is entirely foreseeable that bad behaviour will have bad consequences, and it is here that 2DAY FM, its licence-holder Southern Cross Austereo, its management and its board of directors are culpable.They have created a culture of reckless indifference to the welfare of others and contempt for norms of decency.
"There is nothing more personal or private than information about a person’s health. It sits at the very core of what the concept of personal privacy means.

"To obtain private information about a person’s health without that person’s consent is itself a serious breach of ethics. To obtain it by deception makes it worse, and to then broadcast it publicly over the radio makes it beyond all civilised standards of behaviour.

"How these two broadcasters thought any of this was acceptable beggars belief. However, the real culprits here are their managers and employers. It is they who create the climate in which such conduct is even conceivable. It is they who, in the final analysis, are responsible for the material going to air."
So where were the adults in the room at 2DAYFM? Are there any? Or have we reached the point where everyone's life issues, however private and sensitive, are just fodder for the gladiatorial entertainment confected for audiences by cynical broadcast licensees?
It seems those questions will have to be left for later. For we have now reached the backlash to the backlash. So that means the correct thing to do is feel awfully for the DJs and protect them from the mob (who are indistinguishable from the audience). And sure enough, "Michael and Mel" have done their ritual penance, but only in front of the cameras of Nine and Seven mind you - ostensibly because those are the ones who can best fund their own and the Southern Cross Austereo legal bill. No money is to be had out of cash-strapped Channel Ten and the publicly funded ABC. Even contrition in the Australian media is a business opportunity.

So far the script is playing out to pattern. After this period of ritualised outrage on social media and sponsorship withdrawal and sobbing on camera, normal transmission slowly will be returned. Half the population will go back to listening to angry old right-wing geezers venting about refugees and other half will tune into 20-something bimbos playing phone pranks on the unsuspecting.

All for our entertainment.


  1. "And of course, the contrite and dreadfully put upon people/blondes "Michael and Mel" are so awfully sorry for it all. But they really only want to say that in front of the cameras of Nine and Seven (ostensibly because those are the ones who can best fund the Southern Cross Austereo legal bill.) "...and that is the real story. I haven/'t heard a 'sincere' word come from the owners and management of the station. Plus there was a good amount of duck shoving from Mr Michael. Just how coached was he?

  2. "The ABC also sought interviews but was told the DJs were only talking to commercial TV to try and please commercial media partners."

    Someone actually said that! Out loud!

  3. When I heard Adam Spencer broadcast it on 702 I was horrified - and tweeted as much - that the ABC was having a laugh about someone's private medical details.

    There is no way Greig and Christian or their producers or lawyers could have guessed that the nurse would end her life. But what they SHOULD have guessed is that, because it was personal details about Kate Middleton it would go "global" (ie, get coverage in other English-speaking countries) and that the nurse would most likely be fired. They put their few minutes of "oh, aren't we HI-LAR-IOUS" ahead of someone losing their job. That's cruel and like you said, Mr Denmore, where were the adults in the room?

  4. This.."gee..nobody would have guessed" is complete crap. If you ring up and engage in career destroying prank calls chances are at some point you will destroy a career. Chances are pretty high you might catch someone with severe depression who's having a bad day as well. Not rocket science.

  5. It staggers me that people who crave respectability like Max Moore Wilton could be on the board of a braodcaster like this and happily delegate responsibility to managers. I guess directors fees help when it comes to absolving yourself of any blame.

  6. The media may not have descended into the sewer if the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) had not become a joke.

    Time to do away with 600 ACMA staff and let social media do the job for free.

  7. The UK nurse was "under pressure" because she had a sense of dignity and honour (and therefore shame). In contrast, the Australian DJs, the media company, and indeed a culture that tolerates, encourages and rewards these shameless individuals, possesses no such sense. Various UK media commentators have made this point. There have been no similar observations in Australia, merely attempts to help the perpetrators seek refuge as "victims", always the bullies' way out.

  8. Guess the hospital was just lucky it wasn't the Provisional IRA or al Quaeda on the phone wanting Kate's room number for a delivery of flowers, eh? I'm sure with all that Royal Protocol and water-tight security, that no-one would blink an eye that HRH Queen Elizabeth II would be toddling around Buckingham Palance in her jammies and slippers at 5.30am and just pick up the phone for a quick "Oh how is Kate doing?"

    There is too much stupid all around, and as you say, 2DAY FM is the certain love child of all this.

  9. I wonder how these two idiots would feel if they were on the receiving end of their "harmless" prank. Frankly, it WOULD be tres amusement to find out.

    Perhaps they couldn't have foreseen the tragic result of their infantile behaviour, but it doesn't excuse it.

    They should be forced to explain themselves to their victim's family. I'm sure all will be forgiven and they'll have a jolly laugh when they say it was all in fun.

    Time for withdrawal of advertising bucks, I say. See how humorous life is on the dole queue.

  10. There's a good reason I haven't listened to commercial radio for 45 years - I don't consider this kind of crap to be entertaining.

  11. There's a good post about this on John Quiggin's blog of all places. His sentiments are similar to Mr Denmore's, although the comments go in all sorts of directions, with some being more forgiving of the radio network and their hosts.

  12. WEll Max the Axe thought accusing Iraqi refugees of trying to murder their kids was good news, he even tried to stop the navy from rescuing 223 people in the water for 51 minutes after their boat sank.

    Why would Max care about a young woman who has proved to be a delight to the world, has done nothing to deserve this sort of vicious abuse and was sick in hospital.

    And the abuse of process for the nurse to cope with and so on.

    What I don't understand is why these two stupid brats thought it was of such interest to us when it is none of our business.

    Speaking about media, when will the snakes apologise to Peter Slipper for the abuse they have hurled at him?

    1. +1 on all three counts (Moore-Wilton, brats and necessity of media apology to Slipper.)

  13. I'm looking forward to the next few months of inner soul searching as the MSM analyses where they went wrong in assisting Abbott, Pyne and Brough and whoever else in their smears against one of their own.


  14. I work in health, admittedly in NSW, not the UK but, sorry, the problems lie entirely with the hospital and the royals. The prank call should have gone no further than the front desk and what happened afterwards is most likely a product of the surprise of the producers.

    There should have been VIP protocols in place to manage contact between the palace and the ward. If note the person answering the switch, then surely the nurse providing care should have had a protocol for discussing her patient's condition.

    What I read everywhere in media at the moment is pontification by people everywhere with no understanding of this basic process, weighing in on the role of media when the role of patient privacy is the real story.