In a radio landscape packed with commercial stations, 2Day FM stands out – not so much because it is Sydney’s top-rating music station, but because of its particularly outrageous stunts.
The station is also home to Australian radio’s enfant terrible, Kyle Sandilands, who presents a weekday breakfast show with Jackie O (real name Jackie Henderson). In 2009, the pair subjected a 14-year-old girl to a lie detector test during which she revealed she had been raped at 12. “Right, and is that the only sexual experience you’ve had?” inquired Sandilands.
In the wake of Jacintha Saldanha’s death, the Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) network, which owns 2Day FM, has been stressing, repeatedly, that prank calls are a stock-in-trade of commercial stations around the world. However, former presenters say 2Day FM, more than any other Australian station, has a culture of perpetrating humiliating stunts.
Amber Petty, a 2Day FM host for four years, told News Limited papers: “I felt very uncomfortable about the things I was asked to do.” Another former DJ said her programme director encouraged her to make listeners cry – and she was paid A$50 (£32) whenever she succeeded.
SCA has made few friends for the manner it has dealt with the fallout from the tragedy. After the news broke, the company brought in a “crisis consultant” to act as its spokeswoman.
Sandy Kaye has distinguished herself by accusing British media of a “witch-hunt”, claiming Ms Saldanha suffered from depression and pointing the finger of blame at the King Edward VII Hospital.
“The backlash is just ferocious,” Ms Kaye told Melbourne’s The Age. “Australia seems to be much more balanced. In the UK it’s like they’re on a witch-hunt. It’s intense, and what’s incredible to me is it’s so much easier for the British media to have us as the target. They haven’t once looked at the hospital.”
Rhys Holleran, chief executive of SCA, which owns about 80 stations around Australia, has repeatedly insisted that no laws were broken, nor was any code of conduct transgressed, when Michael Christian and Mel Greig made their fateful call to the hospital a week ago. Some media lawyers disagree, noting that it is illegal here to record a telephone conversation without seeking the other party’s permission.
Like other commercial stations chasing the youth audience, 2Day FM is “a mixture of pop, prattle and silliness”, as one industry-watcher puts it. It has a reputation for pushing the boundaries of taste in its quest for ratings.
Sandilands was reprimanded by the Australian Comm- unications and Media Authority, the broadcasting watchdog, for branding a female journalist a “fat slag” on air after she criticised a one-off TV show hosted by him and Henderson as “a disaster”.
He also attracted opprobrium for describing a Pakistani girl born with additional limbs as “spider baby”.