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Australian royal prank call radio boss defends 'insulting' comment

updated 4:11 AM EDT, Wed October 23, 2013
An undated family photograph of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who died after being hoaxed by an Australian radio show.
An undated family photograph of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who died after being hoaxed by an Australian radio show.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Southern Cross Austereo chairman shocks with flippant comment
  • In response to a shareholder question, Max Moore-Wilton said "S-H-I-T happens"
  • Company released a transcript Wednesday, saying quotes had been taken out of context
  • Last December, two Austereo DJs provoked outrage with a prank call to a hospital

(CNN) -- It took just two "immortal words" for the chairman of a leading Australian media group to whip up hundreds more in print and online in the Australian press on Tuesday.

Those words were "S-H-I-T happens," a phrase the chairman of Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) later reportedly dismissed as "a comment in one sentence" and "everyday parlance in Australia."

The problem was those words were uttered, with the first spelled out, in response to a shareholder question about whether the company had a "cultural problem" as evidenced partly by the "UK incident."

The "UK incident" refers to the apparent suicide of 46-year-old British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, three days after two Austereo DJs made a prank call to the hospital treating the then-pregnant Duchess of Cambridge.

Royal hoax nurse buried in India
Radio station faces criticism
Australian DJs break silence over prank

Using poor impersonations of Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales, Mel Greig and Michael Christian called the hospital switchboard and managed to talk to someone with knowledge of the Duchess' medical condition. It later emerged that Saldanha was the nurse who put them through.

READ MORE: Who was nurse Jacintha Saldanha?

On Wednesday, the company issued a statement alleging that Max Moore-Wilton's comments to a room full of shareholders at the company's annual general meeting in Melbourne were "taken out of context."

It added that Moore-Wilton "would like to emphasize that his words should not be read as his or the company's lack of concern or sympathies towards those who have been involved in the Royal prank call issue."

It included a full transcript of the question and answer:

Shareholder Question:

"Just in relation to Eddie and King Kong, Kyle and obviously the UK incident, do we have a cultural problem?"

Max Moore-Wilton Answer:

"I think it's fair to say that those incidents were very unfortunate, there is no doubt about that. In each particular case we thoroughly investigated them and it comes generally within the context of some of these incidents where a whole series of events come together and in the immortal words of somebody who I forget, S-H-I-T happens."

... in the immortal words of somebody who I forget, S-H-I-T happens.
Max Moore-Wilton, SCA Chairman

The answer goes on to address the "Kyle" question, a reference to shock jock Kyle Sandilands whose no-holds-barred approach to the discipline has long outraged and offended listeners. Moore-Wilton didn't separately address the portion of the question regarding "Eddie and King Kong," a reference to presenter Eddie McGuire who suggested on air that a star AFL player should be used to promote the King Kong musical. The comment was widely interpreted to mean he was calling him an ape.

In regard to what he called the "United Kingdom incident," Moore-Wilton said "that is still ongoing."

"The Coroner's court hearings in London have been delayed. I understand because further investigations are taking place in India. We however, have put in place again, procedures to ensure that such a situation will not happen again.

"We of course have legal proceedings in place. We do not believe that we are in breach of any of the codes and that those matters will go forward but no doubt they did reflect the need to tighten up our procedures and the board and the management have taken considerable time and effort to ensure we've tightened up those procedures" -- SCA statement

'An insult to a loving mother'

In the UK, British lawmaker Keith Vaz issued a statement saying he was "shocked" by Moore-Wilton's comments. "This is an insult to the memory of a loving mother and wife. The radio station has clearly not learnt the lessons from this incident. Mr Moore-Wilton must apologise for his comments immediately."

Moore-Wilton reportedly fired back, urging Vaz to look at the transcript of his comments rather than "listening to the truncated and sensationalist reports of the Australian media."

He told the Australian Associated Press 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."

Outrage over prank call

The radio station has clearly not learnt the lessons from this incident. Mr Moore-Wilton must apologise for his comments immediately.
Keith Vaz, British MP

The call, made in December 2012, provoked international outrage. Social media seethed with scorn for the two presenters who appeared tearful in television interviews when they dared to come out of hiding.

"I'm very sorry and saddened for the family, and I can't imagine what they've been going through," Greig said on the program "Today Tonight." Christian described himself as "gutted, shattered and heartbroken."

READ MORE: Two presenters apologize for prank call

The two presenters were taken off air, their show canceled and all advertising suspended. However, just six months later, Austereo bosses announced they were thrilled that Christian had won a national competition to find the "next top jock." Greig is yet to return to air and has filed a legal claim against 2DayFM, for failing to provide a safe workplace in relation to the prank call.

In September, 2DayFM took the Australian Communications and Media Authority to the Federal Court, alleging that it didn't have the authority to reach a preliminary finding that the station breached the Surveillance Devices Act 2007.

The ACMA has not publicly released the findings of its investigation but provided 2DayFM with a preliminary copy.

The court is still considering its verdict.

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