UK & World News

  • 13 December 2012, 9:35

Royal Prank Call Nurse's Inquest Set To Open

An inquest into the death of a nurse tricked by a radio prank is to open later - as pressure mounts on bosses to name the executives responsible for airing the hoax.

Sky News understands Australia's independent media watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), has had 2,500 complaints from around the world over the 2Day FM segment.

ACMA has announced a rare fast-track investigation into the prank that targeted the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated.

It has decided to bypass the usual complaints procedure following the apparent suicide of 46-year-old nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who was tricked into putting two radio hosts through to a fellow nurse who unwittingly revealed details about Kate's treatment.

The media watchdog could ultimately compel the Sydney-based radio station's parent company, Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), to name the behind-the-scenes staff who allowed it to be broadcast. It could eventually suspend, or remove entirely, the broadcaster's licence.

Normally a broadcaster has 60 days to respond to a complainant and ACMA would only investigate if the complainant felt the response was not good enough. However, the Broadcasting Services Act allows the watchdog to step in earlier if it is in the public interest.

ACMA will determine whether the station breached its licensing conditions in airing the call.

Sky sources have said mother-of-two Ms Saldanha was found hanged days after the call from DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian to London's King Edward VII hospital, where the Duchess was suffering from severe morning sickness.

The pair impersonated the Queen and Prince Charles, with the "monarch" making enquiries about her "granddaughter".

Australia's radio broadcasting code stipulates that it is a breach to record a person in conversation, and also air it, without their knowledge.

The radio station is adamant it did not break the law and tried to contact the hospital on five separate occasions. The hospital disputes any contact was ever sought.

One area the investigation may look at is how the code is interpreted when hoax calls are made outside Australia.

Chris Chapman, chairman of ACMA, said: "The ACMA's formal regulatory relationship is always with the relevant licensee (and not the presenters of any broadcast in question). The ACMA will be examining whether the licensee has complied with its broadcasting obligations."

2Day FM is already on special watch by the regulator after two previous breaches of the code.

SCA is to resume running adverts on the station following a brief suspension.

All profits the station makes from advertising until the end of the year will be donated to a memorial fund set up in aid of Ms Saldanha's family.

A minimum contribution of AUS$500,000 (326,000) will be made, the company has said.

Today's inquest is set to be adjourned shortly after it is opened as enquiries continue. The nurse's death is not being treated as suspicious.

It is understood Ms Saldanha's family are making arrangements to return her body to her native India.

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