Alert reader Peter B. writes:
Does the Radio Off The Dial Guy have an opinion on prank calls made by radio stations?
Yes I do, assuming you’re referring to the Dec. 4th incident in which two announcers from an Australian radio station called the London hospital where Prince William’s wife, Catherine, was being treated for acute morning sickness. The callers impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles and were put through to the ward by a nurse who was later found dead by suicide.
So — a bad day all around. According to CNN:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority, the country’s media watchdog, on Thursday opened a formal investigation into 2Day FM’s broadcast of the prank call.
“The ACMA will be examining whether the licensee has complied with its broadcasting obligations,” said chairman Chris Chapman.
The station’s owner, media network Southern Cross Austereo, pledged Tuesday to donate at least 500,000 Australian dollars (US$524,000) to a fund for the nurse’s family.
I’ve always believed that radio broadcasters have an obligation to program “in the public interest, convenience, and necessity.” That language comes from the Communications Act of 1934 and it’s been widely interpreted over the years. My simplistic definition: what the public wants to hear, needs to hear, and ought to hear.
By “needs and ought,” I mean news and information. As far as I’m concerned, since I teach radio journalism, these are the most important reasons to be a broadcaster.
But most radio outlets are in the entertainment business, which is used as a tool to sell things and make money. Prank calls, like shock jocks and other exemplars of low culture, are all means to that end.
As a society we can decide what the limits are when it comes to selling things and making money. This often butts heads with the notion of free speech, but in the case of (for example) cigarette advertising in the media, it’s a trade-off we’re sometimes willing to make.
Prank calls on the radio? Far down on the list.