Jacintha Saldanha and the role of the media standards in triggering her death. (Part 1 of a 3 part submisssion.)

This is a special blog page set up especially for Paul Matthews, the City of London Coroner.

The aim is to post information that he can scrutinize. I hope that the information posted will highlight the systemic flaws in Australia’s current, deplorable media accountability standards. It is my belief that these “cowboy country” Claytons style ‘standards’, i.e. the standards that you have when you really don’t want standards, have effectively created a national mass media, that like the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, holds itself to be above the Rule of Law for that most self-serving and self-righteous of reasons, i.e. “The Freedom of the Press.” 

In Australia, the concept of “The Freedom of the Press” is like the “Welfare Gravy Train” a total myth; pure self-serving mass media hype. The plain truth is that Australia’s mass media, is merely the ‘lapdog’ of Industry & Commerce. Whilst mass media pundits and supporters may refute that claim, the plain truth is that the management of Radio 2Day FM was so frightened of a consumer backlash that would hurt their corporate sponsors that the radio station had a 2 day ‘voluntary’ moratorium on paid advertising.

The reality behind that decision that was the fact that New South Wales women’s groups were so outraged by Kyle Sandilands outrage comments last year that they threatened to boycott any products advertised on 2Day FM if the station again stepped over the mark and offended women.

The prank that resulted in the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha was more than offensive. It was absolutely, totally beyond words!

My response is to highlight to the City of London Coroner, Paul Matthews, just how deplorable and totally ineffective are the self-imposed standards  used by the conceited twerps who run Australia’s mass media empires. The text below comes from a snail mail letter that is “in the post” to Mr Matthews. I believe that anyone who has been shocked by the death of Jacintha Saldanha should read this material.

It will only be here for a few days because this is a dynamic blog that will change as I add new material. However, anyone who wants to copy it and post on another web page is encouraged to do so.

Ron Medlicott.

Note: The shortlink URL for this posting is: http://wp.me/p1n8TZ-8u

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To solely blame 2Day FM for Jacintha Saldanha’s tragic death is to ignore a massive systemic problem that currently exists in Australia; the combination of appallingly low standards of accountability that are combined with unrealistic threshold levels of proscribed behaviour that UNIQUELY apply to Australia’s mass media, including commercial radio broadcasters such as 2Day FM. It is my contention that the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha was the inevitable consequence of the voluntary codes of conduct used by the commercial radio and television broadcasters in Australia and the cavalier, reckless attitudes that these codes have fostered and encouraged.

 “News of the World Ethics” –OZ’ style.

 I do not have to tell you about the “News of the World” scandal and the media corporate ethics that underpinned and drove that scandal. However, I would point that a significant part of Australia’s mass media is owned by the same people involved in that scandal. In the highly competitive environment that sustains the Australian commercial mass media, the industry’s ethical standards are essentially “a race to the bottom of the barrel.” However, as I hope that you may to some degree begin to appreciate in looking at the death of Jacintha Saldanha, is the fact that in Australia, these deplorable ethical and moral standards actually have the support of the Government and government agencies involved in mass media standards monitoring.

That is, I hope, a challenging statement that you will give impartial consideration too during the inquest into the death of

 BIZARRE: AUSTRALIA’S ZERO TOLERANCE THRESHOLDS v MASS MEDIA THRESHOLD STANDARDS.

As empirical evidence of the points expressed above, I therefore draw your attention to the following statements from Australian Communication & Media Authority’s Report 2729.

Since the mid 1970s, the United States, Great Britain and Australia have had legislation that proscribes anti-social behaviour that harasses, demeans or vilifies individuals or groups. The following statements comes from page 2 and page 6 of ACMA Report 2729 and I believe that the minimum threshold levels identified should be of professional concern to you in looking into Ms Saidanha’s death:

Proscribed material

1.9          A licensee may not broadcast a program […] which is likely, in all the circumstances, to:

1.9.5      seriously offend the cultural sensitivities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people […] in the Australian community;

1.9.6      provoke or perpetuate intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a […] group of persons on the grounds of age [or] race […]. (Page 2)

Provoke or perpetuate intense dislike, serious contempt or severe ridicule against a group of persons on the grounds of age

  •  Use of the words, ‘intense’, ‘serious’ and ‘severe’ indicate that the Code contemplates a very strong reaction and sets a high test for the prohibited behaviours. It is not sufficient that the behaviour induces a mild or even strong response or reaction. (Page 6)

 Please note that the legislated threshold benchmark used by the rest of Australia for inappropriate conduct, be it sexual harassment or any other proscribed form of vilifying behaviour is ZERO TOLERANCE.

However, as I hope to empirically demonstrate with press material that is readily available in Australia, the mass media in Australia has been allowed to set itself standards of conduct which totally ignore the community standard of Zero Tolerance and instead work on self-imposed, manifestly dangerous standards of “INTENSE”, SEVERE and SERIOUS”.  Both journalists and the broadcast media representatives in Australia genuinely believe that, in the name of ‘Freedom of the Press’, that they are, like the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a special group that is above and beyond rule of law and accountability before the courts.

For all practical intents and purposes, these absolutely outrageous and intolerable threshold levels of tolerance only serve to protect the broadcast media in Australia from any effective form of accountability and the practical consequence is that these ‘standards’ have actively fostered an “anything goes” attitude towards what the commercial mass media does in Australia.

In Australia, and I presume in Britain, Zero Tolerance laws that deal with harassment or vilification are, quite appropriately “victim focused”. However,the codes of practice used by the broadcast media and the print media in Australia are mass media audience focused. Information that I intend to provide via a web page link will highlight the deplorable fact that in Australia, the mass media does not believe that it should be held accountable for the impact upon the targeted victim!

  1. That explains why 2Day FM pulled the prank! Any potential impact upon the intended victim was literally not part of the “appropriateness” assessment process.
  2. Any inquiry into the death of Ms Saldanha must closely scrutinize the “penalty” imposed upon 2Day FM by the ACMA for an incident that involved one of the station’s radio presenters, Kyle Sandilands.
  3. Mr Sandilands made entirely inappropriate comments that attacked a female journalist. There was fierce community outrage over these comments and once the ACMA’s inquiry into the incident was completed, the head of the ACMA, Chris Chapman,  acknowledged in a video recorded interview that was placed on the Internet, that Kyle Sandilands comments were completely …“over the top” and “…ticked all the boxes”, i.e. they fitted into the ACMA’s EXTREME category.
  4. With even the head of the ACMA  publicly acknowledging the “over the top” extreme nature of Mr Sandilands comments, it is reasonable to assume that 2Day FM’s management and license holders received a commensurately strong penalty that would serve as an effective inducement that actively discouraged 2Day FM from engaging in, or allowing, further acts of inappropriate broadcasting activity.
  5. However, the penalty imposed by the ACMA was so manifestly mild and inappropriate that it infuriated some community groups with the representative of one women’s group describing the ACMA’s penalty as “like being whipped with a feather”, a description that I fully endorse.
  6. Had the management of 2Day FM been hit with a substantial penalty that seriously impacted upon the station’s operating profit, management’s legally enforceable DUE DILIGENCE obligations would have ensured that the ‘cowboy country, anything goes‘ attitude that still apparently prevailed at 2Day FM (until Ms Saldanha’s death), would not have been allowed.
  7. I would also point that 2Day FM’s secret recording of that phone call violated Australian communications and privacy laws and i suspect probably violated British laws as well and was in itself an prime example of the ‘cowboy country – I am above accountability’ attitude that is the baseline norm within my adopted nation’s mass media. Put simply, the call should not have been recorded and playing on air was a serious violation of Australia’s Privacy Act but was deemed by station management to be an appropriate action, i.e. ‘cowboy country’ behaviour.

It is my sincere belief that one of the critical, crucial factors that played such a significant role in the death of Jacintha Saidanha were these self-imposed threshold levels of “INTENSE”, SEVERE and SERIOUS” that give absolutely NO CONSIDERATION to the impact upon the targeted person or group.I believe that these threshold levels are NOT threshold tolerance levels that engender an attitude of either caution or responsibility but rather have the counter-productive effect of encouraging grossly irresponsible hurtful, demeaning and offensive behaviour.

I strongly recommend that you obtain a copies of ACMA Report 2729 (and all documents relating to that complaint), in order to comprehend some of the reasons why the ACMA strongly endorses this sort of behaviour. In Australia, simply Googling acma report 2729 quickly brings up a hyper-link that allows this document to be downloaded from the ACMA in Word 2003 document format. It may be different doing this in Britain. However, I also strongly recommend that you also obtain ACMA Report 2780 and all associated documentation., This is a report which deals specifically with allegations that a television station belonging to Australia’s 2nd largest commercial knowingly concealed details of unlawful deaths that resulted from inappropriate conduct by a former government and that as result of the editorial decision to withhold this information, further fatalities occurred.

I am sure that you can appreciate that such an accusation is extremely grave and of extreme legal and political gravity and sensitivity. In theory, faced with such an allegation, any federal government agency with criminal investigative powers would be extremely diligent in conducting any investigation into these allegations.

After a delay of 6 months, ACMA Report 2780 was released with a finding that after a thorough investigation, no evidence was found that supported the allegation. If simply taken at face value, that statement in the report sounds entirely logical and reasonable.

  1. However, if you request for a copy of ACMA Report 2780, also ask for a copy of the transcripts, audio tapes or video tapes of the interviews with the plaintiff, witnesses, families of victims, etc.
  2. If you receive any of this material it will be faked, for no such interviews occurred!
  3. What the ACMA conducted was not a criminal investigation but was in fact a ‘cafe-latte’ desktop investigation of the “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” variety.
  4. 4.       It was a cover-up! A cover-up that would not withstand truly impartial scrutiny. (Sadly, not your job.)
  5. The corporate ethic within Australia’s broadcasting media watchdog is not focused upon enforcing compliance with standards that protect the community. Instead, as the lack of investigative vigor that underpins Report 2780 indicates, the role of the ACMA is to protect Australia’s broadcast industry. Statistical data that validates that claim is the low percentage of complaints to the ACMA that are upheld in favour of plaintiffs. Such a lax environment is sadly, potentially very dangerous for the unwary,

I appreciate that I have tossed a political bombshell in your lap and I am fully aware that this brief letter hardly constitutes overwhelming proof that systemic problems were a crucial factor in Ms Saldanha’s death. However, I do believe that if you are to do justice to Ms Saidanha, the News of the World fiasco underpins the vital need to carefully scrutinize the ‘global environmental factors’ that exist in Australia that allowed such inappropriate conduct to be considered to be acceptable behaviour by 2Day FM management.

Ronald Medlicott GDA, Dip T, Cert FLM.

(Christian advocate of welfare justice.)

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