Royal hoax call: Aus radio to give 500,000 dlr to dead nurse's family

Saldanha family

Last week's prank was widely condemned days after it aired, after the still-unexplained death of a nurse who answered the phone and helped two DJs get confidential information about the former Kate Middleton's health. But when it comes to a potential criminal case, the question is not about the death; it's whether a private conversation was broadcast without the permission of the participants.

Violators could be sentenced to prison, but it's unclear who at radio station 2DayFM or its parent company, Southern Cross Austereo, made the decision to air the call. The DJs have said executives above them made the decision, but a former 2DayFM host who orchestrated many pranks for the station said DJs were always involved in such decisions while she was there.

Southern Cross Austereo has said the station had tried five times to contact the hospital, but privacy law expert Barbara McDonald said that could prove to be an inadequate defense.

"Seems to me that saying, `We tried to call,' shows that they knew they should, and they've made a decision to go ahead knowing that they have not got permission,'' said McDonald, a law professor at the University of Sydney. ``I don't know whether it makes the situation better, or worse.''

The New South Wales state Surveillance Devices Act prohibits the broadcast of recorded private conversations without participants' permission, with violations punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to 55,000 Australian dollars ($58,000).

McDonald said the Commercial Radio Code of Practice has a similar ban, but she added that even if Australia's media watchdog found violations, the most extreme punishment _ loss of license _ is almost unheard of.

Australian authorities have said little about any possible investigation. State police have said only that they've been in contact with their London counterparts and are ready to assist them in any British investigation.

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