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Published 15 July 2013 12:27, Updated 18 July 2013 00:45
When the news hit that “royal hoax” radio DJ Mel Greig was suing 2Day FM for failing to provide a safe workplace, a lot of the reaction around me was an exasperated “can you believe it?”.
Well, yes, I can believe it – and I’ll tell you why.
If you remember, Greig and co-host Michael Christian pranked a nurse in Britain into believing they were the Queen and Prince Charles to see how close they could get to their daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton, who was a patient.
The trick had tragic consequences. The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, later committed suicide and left a note blaming the hoax for her actions.
The DJs were taken off the air and, while Christian has been able to re-establish his career, Greig has remained too traumatised to work. A source, from within the radio station, has said she is in a “bad way”.
For months, there has also been the threat of possible legal action against the pair and the station.
Now, no matter what people might think of the prank itself, these kinds of hoaxes are the bread-and-butter business of youth-oriented commercial radio stations. It has been going on since the glory days of the US television series Candid Camera, which first screened in 1948.
I don’t think anyone could have foreseen the impact it would have had on Jacintha Saldanha. So, the DJs were doing the job they were paid for and Greig has been psychologically injured in the course of doing her duties.
The owner of the radio station, Austereo, has offered Greig a number of jobs over the past six months, but she has refused them.
Random breath testing had just started and a couple had decided to take a taxi back home from dinner, rather than risk the breathalyser. The taxi crashed and the husband died and I was sent out, completely unprepared, to knock on the door to ask if the wife would speak to me.
Luckily for me, the woman’s mother opened the door and took pity on me. She was a former ABC employee and she said she understood. She left me in the lounge room with a cup of tea while she helped her daughter pick the shards of glass from her skin in the bath.
From that time onward, the photographer, driver and I colluded to avoid doing any more pointless intrusions. We would drive out, sit outside the house and inform the news desk that they wouldn’t let us in.
Soon, they stopped sending me, and found someone more compliant.
In a competitive industry, particularly with young people at the start of their careers, workplace culture can be used for good or evil.
“About 10 years ago, whenever I was in the car with my children after school who were then 12 and 13, I’d turn off Kyle Sandilands [also on 2Day FM] because I thought he was so inappropriate for that age . . . or any age, in fact,” she says.
However, Ziemer says she was intrigued about how people in charge of the station quarantine themselves from the behaviour of some of the presenters.
“One night, when I was at a social function, I thought I’d put it up to a friend of mine, who at the time was a director of Southern Cross Austereo – twice as straight, blue blood, and just as conscientious a parent as me,” she says.
“I asked him how he felt about being a director of a company that was complicit in letting loose on the airwaves – and profiting from – the foulest public broadcaster who had no positive influence on our generation of children and young adults.
“His answer was along the lines of: ‘that’s operational, we let the executives do their job and that’s their business’. He wiped his hands of it.”
Ziemer, who is on a number of company boards, says rarely do directors talk about whether the business is a “social good”.
“The reporting and compliance requirements for company directors and boards have increased over the past decade but it’s pretty much all about financial side of an enterprise. Somehow, we’ve conveniently overlooked primum non nocere – ‘first do no harm’ – the Hippocratic oath, which could also be taken by directors in some form or other,” she says.
“It’s not just Southern Cross Austereo, but it’s a classic example and I wonder whether we’ll see some increase in directors’ responsibilities as a result.”