Pranks OK as long as victim gives the nod

WHAT radio insiders have been telling me for some time now appears to be inevitable – that the antics of 2DayFM will drag the commercial Australian radio industry into a new era of tighter regulation.

And is the industry happy about that? It should be.

What we have in place now is a set of agreed guidelines called Commercial Radio Codes of Practice. This code was developed by the industry and it contains guidelines, not laws, administered by the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

Nothing in the code, as far as I can see, covers the etiquette, rules, morality, hilarity, stupidity or otherwise of “prank calls”.

The “prank”, “gotcha” or “phony” call has been around forever. 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: “Phone call for Al . . . Al Coholic . . . is there an Al Coholic here? 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, Cuba’s Fidel Castro and a forged Canadian prime minister Jean Chetien, who got through to Queen Elizabeth II preceding the Quebec referendum in 1995 in a widely broadcast hoax.

The British themselves are not immune to enjoying such japes. In 2008 a British TV program, Fonejacker, won a BAFTA for Best Comedy Program.

All of this leaves us pondering just where this latest call from 2Day FM finds its place?

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 and laugh, knowing that no real harm has been done and everyone is in on the gag.

If that protocol had been followed in this instance, the end of the call 2DayFM put to air would have sounded like this:

DJ: “Erm. Hello … sorry, sorry, we’re not really the Queen and Prince Charles, we’re from a radio station in Australia.”

Nurse: “Really? Ha hah hah.”

The management of 2DayFM say they have not broken the law.

But have they flouted the ACMA Code of Practice?

Well you won’t be surprised to know that, in this self-regulated industry code there are many loopholes, including acting in “good faith” making a “reasonable mistake” or believing on “reasonable grounds” they have not offended community standards. Then there is the question of “public interest”.

No-one wants to shut down humour and satire but 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.

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

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.


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