The 2DAY fm Hoax
The hoax perpetrated by two presenters on the Sydney radio station 2DAY fm who impersonated the Queen, Prince Charles and some corgis in a call to a hospital in London does not make me proud to be an Australian. It was cruel in that it ridiculed and mocked the Queen, an elderly woman entitled to respect and dignity, and deceptive in the way it tricked professional persons into making confidential information public. The suicide that it seems to have caused has made their foolishness the cause of a tragedy. The management of the radio station states that the pair are being given counselling, and while I’m usually sceptical about this kind of response in this case it may be a good idea; they will have to live with the consequences of their act for years, and their heaviest burden will be guilt. People filling in when the usual presenters of the program were on summer holidays who may have thought that the interview, which was played to and approved by management before going to air, would have given them a big break, they deserve a degree of sympathy.
Not so the management of the station. To say that no-one could have foreseen the outcome is true, but a pretty weak defense, for no-one has accused the presenters of having sought to bring about what occurred. We have been told that the station will co-operate in any investigation that may take place, but this is hardly a claim to virtue; does it have any choice? Allegations that the stunt did not break the law seem feeble (the claim that it was within the law because the offense took place outside Australia looks desperately weak.) I fear that the pulling of advertizing from the station by management (‘out of respect to advertizers’!) is a move designed to preserve its revenue stream over the longer term. And the hoax sits within the dreadful culture that has emerged in recent times in commercial radio in Sydney, quite a bit of it manifest on 2DAY fm. While there is nothing in Australia to compare with the vulgarity of the London red-top tabloid newspapers, there is surely nothing as offensive in Britain as the ratings-chasing disk jockeys and talk-back hosts of Sydney radio, whose antics attract a large audience of bogans and so are supported by the bosses.
We live in a world in which media is becoming more important, is changing very quickly, and is understood by no-one. I am amazed that three very wealthy Australians, two of them with serious media backgrounds, have each lost over a hundred million dollars on paper through investing in a failing TV network. But two of them had already lost millions in a mobile phone company that went bankrupt! Nevertheless, trends are apparent. It is interesting that the first indications of widespread unease about the hoax call were when the topic began to trend on Twitter. I suspect that people who tweet are far better educated and liberal in their attitudes than those who listen to 2DAY fm. And the days when the entire nation would congregate around several TV networks have passed, just as those when all the citizens of a large city would be readers of one of a couple of newspapers have gone. Developments in the media are not only pushing free-to-air TV in the same direction as hard copy newspapers, but they are making us members of smaller tribes, who must keep talking to each other.