Situational Ethics

Ethics are only genuine if they are consistent.

The problem is that, by definition, ethics can’t be applied on a situational basis. You either believe in something or you don’t.

People are lining up to attack Mel Greig, Michael Christian and Southern Cross Austereo over this weeks prank call.

However it is only now, after the call set in place a terrible train of events, ultimately tragically leading to the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, that some have seen fit to express their ethical outrage over the content.

We have to assume that Southern Cross Austereo is on stable legal ground over the airing of the call, as they have said it was vetted by  legal advisors. At the media conference SCA CEO Rhys Holleran said;

"we're very confident that we haven't done anything illegal".

Even if this were to prove not to be the case, given the call was 'legalled', Mel and MC are not at fault.

Holleran used the word ‘unforeseeable’ five times in his media conference. Whilst this was clearly him staying ‘on message’, it is accurate.

Nobody could have foreseen such a horrific outcome.

And whilst their ‘prank call’ started the wheels in motion, Mel and MC are not responsible for the nurse taking her own life. 

They were doing what radio shows have done for a hundred years. 

They were doing what Matt Tilley has done countless times on Fox, won ACRA’s for, and released CD's of. They were doing what Fitzy & Wippa have done dozens of times on Nova 969. They were doing what any number of Morning Crews (Jamie Dunn, Wendy Harmer, Rabbit, Paddy & Ciel) did for years on Breakfast radio in capital city and regional markets around the country.

They were generating 'water-cooler' talk content, in a way that has been done by broadcasters since before they were born. 

Chairman of Beyond Blue Jeff Kennett said on ABC Radio; "It was a harmless prank, now they will be under extraordinary pressure and I just hope that they get our support and that their employer provides them with the professional support to help them get through what will be a terrible few weeks,".

Kennett is right.

It is irrelevant whether, on a personal level, you like prank calls or not. What is relevant is if any ethical outrage that you feel is being applied situationally, or is consistent with how you feel about 'prank calls' more generally.

Is a spear tackle in Rugby League okay if the recipient is not injured? Or is it always wrong?

Is drink driving okay if you don't hurt somebody? Or is it always wrong?

You can’t practise situational ethics. It's either wrong, or it isn't.

The prank call to the London hospital did not contain any malicious intent. To the contrary, it was so ridiculous that it is surprising they even got through. Even Prince Charles joked about it a couple of days ago saying "how do you know I'm not a radio station?".

And he wasn't the only one. Speaking to Fairfax Media (prior to Jacintha's death) The Chaser's Julian Morrow said; ”It’s funny and I think Austereo was fairly silly to apologise. Prank calls are really legitimate and there’s plenty of really good ones".

Nova 969's Wippa also commented; ”Anyone that doesn’t laugh at this story, and works in the media, is just angry they didn’t do it themselves. They’ve done well, I take my hat off to them. The gag is they would be in disbelief that they actually managed to convince someone".

For absolute clarity, both Julian and Wippa's comments were made prior to the death of Jacintha Saldanha.

What Jacintha's family will be going through right now is impossible to comprehend, and it is an absolute tragedy.

However Mel and MC are not responsible for her death.

Both will be in a dark place right now. And now is when they need support from an industry that has trained and encouraged presenters to push boundaries to generate water-cooler content for years.

They were doing what they had been taught to do.

If they were to be hung out to dry by radio, then it says more about the industry than it does about them.



Dan Bradley is Executive Director of Kaizen Media; a boutique international radio consulting and artist management company, working with radio stations, media talent and music artists.

You can contact Dan here. 


Published on Saturday, 08 December 2012 18:32

Anonymous(17:48pm 08 Dec 2012)
Awesome article by Dan! Very very well said :) I really hope MC & Mel come through this. I've noticed thousands of comments blasted across SCA'S facebook accounts and the amount of people calling for blood is horrible.
Us Announcers turn up to work everyday with the intention of Entertaining our listeners. It's in our blood. An old station manager once said to me "You're too safe, you need to break the boundaries every now and then". Sometimes this pays off, sometimes it doesn't - you just really aren't to know. What are we supposed to do? Play it so safe that content becomes boring? There really is never an adequate answer.

I'm sure all of us in the radio industry will stick by MC & Mel during this really tough time. My thoughts are with them and I really hope whether it be with SCA or other, they continue to work in radio.
Anonymous(18:21pm 08 Dec 2012)
oh dear. Look at all the teachers coming out to protect their students, after they bashed a kid in the playground. They have done it for 100 years? And you dare to name some of the most professional and untainted talent in the country like Tilley, Harmer and Dunn? Have another glass of chardonnay Dan, and keep pretending that you are not partly to blame for this.
Try to think back to when you were a jock- late nights Brisbane maybe. Would you or would you not ring your PD before putting this call to air? Stand by the presenters Anonymous, but if you have the balls, start moving away from the people calling the shots.
Nicole Williamson(19:02pm 08 Dec 2012)
This article doesn't sit well. I think it's the timing. Support your colleagues but maybe wait a day or so before you write an article about 'ethics' or 'legality'. There's a tin ear quality to it (even though I think it comes from the right place which is supporting your colleagues).

These are fighting words rather than words of sadness and remorse. Any human would feel remorse for doing something, a prank, not meant to harm that does harm. In our hearts we all know that a prank call won't be the real reason that someone took her own life but we still feel awful about it.

Jill Stark's article in the SMH talks about how it feels when someone you interview suicides....that IS on the money and the timing feels right.

I think Jeff Kennet's remarks also hit the right note.

I wrote a few days ago that I thought it was funny (and old) gag. It was. I also thought the DJs were polite and kind to the 2 Nurses they spoke to.

I do however believe in shades of grey (you might call it situational ethics)rather than black and white. So now I'm examining my conscience about whether pranking hospitals is fair game. All right thinking people will ask themselves those questions.

A big shout out to all those caring Nurses who answer the phone at midnight when you ring to find out how a sick relative is...
Anonymous(19:26pm 08 Dec 2012)
Who is to Blame for this call going to air... While the blame should not go all on MC and Mel someone is to blame for this

If the call was never made and never approved to go to air that Nurse would still be alive right now

Who is to Blame?
lisa(19:35pm 08 Dec 2012)
why is no one questioning the lack of support Jacinta had around her? Why wasn't her employer able to identify the situation and provide counsel before it was too late? the prank may have been a final straw but surely Jacinta was in a fragile state prior?? such a tragedy, but you can't blame an individual.
Lisa Winfield GB(20:04pm 08 Dec 2012)
When I wake up tommorrow the only news I want to see us that those pair of idiots are SACKED FIRED GONE. Situational Ethics have a day off will you!! There are children without a mother this Christmas I don't find that very funny
Andy Grace(20:12pm 08 Dec 2012)
Terrible tragedy. No winners in this one. Feel for both the family and the kids in the first week of their gig.
Bob Francis(20:19pm 08 Dec 2012)
There is a victim. She ended her life. Just because someone else did it is not an excuse. Last time I checked this is real world and not the school yard.

Actions have consequences and for whatever reason this girl could no longer put up with the humiliation that 2day FM imposed on her without her permission.

That you are defending such actions is reprehensible.
Anonymous(20:31pm 08 Dec 2012)
I was wondering who wrote this trashy excuse for an article, thinking 'no wonder they wouldn't put their name to it', when there at the end was the answer. Dan Bradley. Let me ask a question I haven't seen here. Did MC or Mel get the nurses permission to put this travesty to air? I'm guessing no, yet just about every station I've ever worked at has had the established policy of getting the person's permission to put them to air. Did the legal team consider this little tid bit, or were they all too excited at all the free publicity? I wonder if they even thought that the poor woman might lose her job let alone this? The fact of the matter is this, if this were a local story and the victim had been humiliated on air without permission ACMA would have their license. If this were done in the UK - impersonating the Monarch to air the Duchesses personal medical information they would be in jail. As such, the ACMA should finally take some action agaist SCA and 2DayFM. How many of these stunts are they going to tolerate?
Anonymous(23:26pm 08 Dec 2012)
Although I sympathise with the DJs, this was an ignorant prank and ignorance should not be tolerated at such professional and public level. The result is a stark insight to how pranks affect people outside the jokey environment of a radio production meeting.

Drink driving is ALWAYS wrong for the chance of tragedy. Now in retrospect we can see this kind of prank is ALWAYS wrong for the chance of tragedy.

I imagine many other have been irreversibly traumatised by a prank that has been sold to the rest of the world as 'harmless fun'.
Adam D(3:06am 09 Dec 2012)
As a fellow announcer (of another station and state..) I have to say, while I agree the call shouldn't have taken place in the first place, vilification of the announcers is not going to resolve anything, nor bring back the nurse.

The public will only see MC and Mel as they're the only ones in the public eye, but the truth being that there are others involved in the background, off the air, such as producers and managers. I'm not saying blame them, but there's a chance that the decisions were out of the control of the two announcers, being nothing more than orders from their managers and bosses; much in the same way a newspaper editor will order a journalist to write an article about a particular issue, from a certain view point. At that level of the industry you'll find yourself in a situation of "If you won't do it, we'll get someone else".

As I said, I don't believe the situation should have even become an issue in the first place, everyone, royal or not, deserves their privacy (one of the reasons I don't give two-hoots about celebrity scandal and news.. that's their life..), especially in a hospital involved situation.

I would like to take the opportunity to pass my condolences to the family and friends of the nurse, and also to wish the best of luck to MC and Mel - hopefully they will return to doing the thing that they and we all love.. keeping listeners entertained.
Just remember, if it weren't for listeners and their entertainment, not one of us would be here in this job.
Peter Grace(11:07am 09 Dec 2012)
To use the excuse "nobody thought this would happen" is a lame cop-out. Who would have thought a business would prank call a hospital?

It was wrong from that point on. The consequences, no matter what they might be, stem from the fact that they pranked a hospital. If that doesn't make them responsible for the consequences, nothing does.
Campo(11:50am 09 Dec 2012)
A coach from an elite sporting team gave me this perspective.

Some coaches will put you on the field , not because of your talent but because they have done some homework on you and know you are the type of player if pushed will do something outrageous, with no regard for the consequences.

So when you lose the plot and go berserk and someone gets hurt, the coach can sit back and say , I didn't expect that to happen taking no responsibility for the players action. The player has to be held responsible as they are adults and should know right from wrong ,but it is the coaching philosophy that is the crux of the problem and ultimately decides the outcome
Anonymous(11:54am 09 Dec 2012)
Why are people so focused on the term 'blame'?

There's no preventative measure for this kind of outcome, especially in radio.

I can guarantee you, regardless of the network (anywhere in the world), this prank call would of been broadcast. No reasonable person can deny that.

Take an objective stance and get off your 'burn them at the stake' high horse.
Anonymous(12:55pm 09 Dec 2012)
Why are people so focused on the term 'blame'? Because there's a VICTIM, or did you miss that part? This Christmas there will be a husband and two little kids missing their Mum, all because SCA thought it would be fun to prank call a hospital. How's that for 'objective'?
Campo(14:41pm 09 Dec 2012)
????? The preventative measures are called codes and standards....WTF...give this guy a job at SCA please ...unbelievable
Anonymous(14:53pm 09 Dec 2012)
That's about as far from 'objective' as you are from intelligent.

It was a meaningless situation that unfortunately turned tragic. The world is still very ill-informed of the entire circumstance but thankfully some people are starting to recognise that.

Obviously others, like yourself, aren't ready to accept anything other than the 'blood on their hands' point of view. This is sad, because it's fueled by sensationalism, tabloid newspapers and hack writers - that place where simple minded 'objectivity' comes from.

I certainly believe some kind of action needs to be taken surrounding the protocol for prank calls but I don't believe the presenters need to be vilified in the way that they are. Remember there was never any malice involved in the call (AT ALL) - so don't pull the trigger just yet.

Now if you actually read Dan's article you might get an understanding of the term 'objective'.
Anonymous(15:34pm 09 Dec 2012)
Dans article is on situational ethics and if you read Campos comments prior to the tragedy his stance has not changed
Anonymous(18:35pm 09 Dec 2012)
As far from objective as I am intelligent? What wit! You're the one who is far from intelligent if you cannot see that humiliating someone on a worldwide scale is wrong. I did read Dan's article. It's trash and Radio Today should be ashamed for publishing it. It's nothing more than the teacher sticking up for the students. It suggests people only think Drink Driving is wrong when there's a victim. It suggests that spear tackling someone in a rugby match is fine if you don't end up hurting anyone.
robbo(12:58pm 10 Dec 2012)
C'mon Dan, I have known you for a long time now, 21 years or so? I have watched your career go from strength to strength, and have immeasurable respect for your achievements. However on this point I must disagree with you!

You mention ethics? Well what about the ethics of broadcasting private and confidential health information of a hospitalised patient to begin with? What are the ethics involved and where were they considered there?

Then to not actually reveal that the conversation had been recorded and would be played back on air? Not only a clear breach of ACMA guidelines, but as someone who has been around this industry for close to a quarter of a century, totally immoral.

For me it's quite clear what went on here! A couple of children were let loose to play with the big boys toys and someone got hurt!

Not good enough!!

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