Royal phone scandal highlights new media risks

Mon Dec 10, 2012 3:48am EST
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By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Back in 2007, as investigations were gathering strength into the UK phone hacking scandal involving journalists working under the umbrella of the Murdoch media empire, a comedy show based around prank telephone calls made a low-key debut in Britain.

'Fonejacker' proved such a hit with the British public that the next year the program, in which a masked caller bamboozles hapless victims, won a coveted BAFTA award for best comedy, underscoring the attraction of the prank call amid a blurring of a ceaseless news cycle with social media and entertainment.

But just such a prank telephone call, to a London hospital where Prince William's pregnant wife Kate was being treated, has sparked a firestorm in traditional and social media after the apparent suicide by the nurse who put the call through.

Much of the fury has been directed at laying blame for the nurse's death on the Australian DJs who made the prank call, or the media in general, with the most vitriolic comments appearing on the public domains of Facebook and Twitter.

The social media outrage has become a story of its own, outlasting the original news value of a prank call, and has seen advertising pulled from the program which broadcast the hoax call and the suspension of the two radio announcers.

Shares in radio station 2DayFM's owner, Southern Cross Austero fell 5 percent on Monday as the public backlash gathered strength.

Media commentators and analysts warn the rapidly changing traditional and social media worlds may have given people greater freedom of expression, but can unleash a genie which can have destructive or negative repercussions, without responsible behavior by both mainstream and social media operators.

"It's all changing so fast that societal norms have retreated in confusion," said veteran newspaper columnist Jennifer Hewett in the Australian Financial Review.   Continued...

A man works in a studio at the 2Day FM radio station in Sydney December 6, 2012. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz