The “Royal prank call” scandal which continues to engulf Sydney radio station 2DayFM is emerging as a textbook example of how to blindly keep on mismanaging a crisis and making it worse – even when the whole world and his dog knows you’re wrong.
The most recent step in this unedifying story was when the Federal Court rejected an attempt by Southern Cross Radio to prevent the Australian Communication and Media Authority from making an adverse finding on the case. The broadcasting watchdog has the power to cancel a radio licence and ACMA Chairman Chris Chapman said the decision provides clarity over the licence condition that prohibits broadcasters from using their broadcasting service in the commission of an offence.
The radio station owners released a two-line statement saying: “We are reviewing the judgment and considering our position. There will be no further comment at this time.” However it was later indicated they would go back to court to appeal.
Yet it didn’t have to be like this. A thoughtful application of basic Crisis Management 101 at the beginning could have taken much of the heat out of this scandal, which arose when nurse Jacintha Saldanha committed suicide after handling the radio station’s supposedly funny prank call to the London hospital where Kate, Duchess of Cambridge was a patient.
The station appeared to show very little genuine remorse, and this was reinforced recently when Chairman Max Moore-Wilton told a shareholders meeting: “These incidents were unfortunate, no doubt about that. But in the immortal words of someone whose identity I cannot recall, sh*t happens.”
Facing predictable outrage around the world, did the intrepid Mr Moore-Wilson apologise? Not at all. Instead he defended his comments by saying the phrase was “entirely Australian. I don’t know whether it’s British but it’s certainly been used by many Australians to express a point of view. I’m not here to be censored for my use of a word which is common in everyday parlance in Australia. If you don’t like it, or the media don’t like it, well that’s fine.”
Of course it’s not “fine.” The company, presumably on the advice of lawyers, then released the transcript of the shareholder meeting in an effort to uphold the time-worn defence that the comment had been “taken out of context.” Maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t. That’s hardly the point.
The underlying issue isn’t about the context of crass remarks at the shareholder meeting. It‘s actually about the company’s actions in the context of persistently demonstrating misjudgement in the face of a prolonged crisis. It is impossible to say at this late stage whether a healthy dose of corporate humility earlier on might have avoided or reduced the legal consequences of this unseemly fiasco. But as the issue management veteran Ray Ewing once said: “Ignorance gets corporations in trouble. Arrogance keeps them there.”