Two Australian radio DJs, whose hoax call to a UK hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife Kate led to the death of an Indian-origin nurse, had been trained "not to air any prank calls without permission" and were now "playing dumb", a media report said on Wednesday.
Quoting a source at 2Day FM station, 'The Age' reported that all presenters, producers and content managers were compelled to undergo "decency and standards" training every six months, in compliance with a ruling from the industry watchdog.
Indian-origin nurse Jacintha Saldanha, 46, had died after a suspected suicide last Friday after she was fooled by 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who had made the prank call to the King Edward VII Hospital in Marylebone, central London and obtained private details of Kate's acute morning sickness by pretending to be the Queen and William's father Prince Charles.
"I find it hard to believe that if you scored the scoop of the year in entertainment radio, you'd be so flippant as to not be aware of the approval process. You'd be asking questions every step of the way because you'd be trying to get it approved as quickly as possible. You're hardly going to sit back and wait," the source was quoted as saying by the paper.
"These two presenters are broadcast professionals. They can't play dumb now," the source said, adding "I do feel sorry for them, though."
"I think they're taking the fall for the whole thing. There are senior people above them who would have approved this and so far, none of them have admitted their involvement."
The training sessions, run by 2Day FM's in-house lawyer Tania Petsinis, include the specific instruction "not to air prank calls unless they get the subject's permission ... if there is doubt about a prank call, there is a clear chain of command in management that we have to escalate the call through", the report quoted the source as saying.
The training sessions also advised on "how to not cause distress to callers ... there is a lot of stuff about taste and decency," it said.
The sessions were incepted after a lie detector scandal in 2009 when a 14-year-old girl disclosed on air that she was raped.
"If employees are hired between the twice-yearly sessions, they must have one-on-one training before they start," the source said.
"Even when we get people to do summer fill-in shows, they're not allowed on air until they've done the course," the source said. "And that training is very clear: you can't put any prank calls to air unless you get the subject's consent. It doesn't matter where (the subject) is from; this is a blanket rule.
"There's no way that Michael and Mel would have been allowed behind a microphone if they had not done this training."
CEO of 2Day FM owner Southern Cross Austereo, Rhys Rhys Holleran, had told a radio channel that the station did try to contact the hospital "at least five times" before airing the prank call. However, he did not divulge details as to why the call was then broadcast despite failing attempts.
The daily said it was understood that training sessions of the radio station made no mention on how to deal with prank call subjects who were overseas.
"We're told that if we have any concerns about taste or decency, we have to take it up through the levels of management," the source said. "First, we have to take it to the content director, Derek Bargwanna, then to the legal team and the station manager, Jeremy Simpson. It was also noted that it was not clear on who approved the segment."
Fairfax Media had repeatedly sought comment from Southern Cross Austereo spokeswoman Sandy Kaye and several senior managers.
"All have failed to respond," it said, adding that another source had told Fairfax Media that Bargwanna approved the broadcast of the prank call.
The report noted that the claims about the training sessions, particularly the advice not to air prank calls without the subject's consent, appear to contradict Christian's claim on commercial news channel that "(we were) not privy to what happens with this call ...
"I'm certainly not aware of what filters it needs to pass through. All we know is that it's passed on and then we're told either yay or nay."
Greig added, "It's not up to us to make that decision. We just record it and then it goes to the other departments to work it out. I don't know what they then do with it. We just do what we do which is make those calls."