Australia launches inquiry into royal prank call

CANBERRA/LONDON Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:34am GMT

1 of 2. 2day FM radio hosts Mel Greig (L) and Michael Christian, pose in Sydney in this picture obtained by Reuters on December 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Southern Cross Austereo/Handout

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CANBERRA/LONDON (Reuters) - Australia's media regulator launched an investigation on Thursday into a prank call by a radio station to a London hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife as condemnation grew after the death of the nurse who took the call.

The body of nurse Jacintha Saldanha was found last Friday, days after she put the hoax call through to a colleague who disclosed details of the treatment being given to William's wife Kate, who is suffering from acute morning sickness.

The prank made headlines around the world, as did news that Saldanha, who was married with two children, had then apparently committed suicide.

MP Keith Vaz, who represents Saldanha's family, said he had written to Southern Cross Austereo, parent company of Sydney radio station 2Day FM, to express his dissatisfaction.

"There has been no written apology, no request for a meeting with the family and no attempt to travel to the United Kingdom to express contrition," Vaz wrote in a letter to Southern Cross chief executive Rhys Holleran that he released to the media.

Southern Cross, which has apologised for the stunt, said on Tuesday it would donate its advertising revenue until the end of the year to a fund for Saldanha's family, with a minimum contribution of A$500,000 (325,198 pounds).

"I would be grateful if you could let me know how you arrived at this figure and why you think this adequately deals with this serious and important issue," Vaz wrote.

Southern Cross and its two presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, have faced a barrage of criticism since Saldanha, 46, was found dead in staff accommodation near London's King Edward VII hospital.

Greig and Christian have both been suspended and their show has been scrapped. They appeared on Australian television to say the death had left them heartbroken.

In a brief statement on Thursday, broadcast media regulator the Australian Communications and Media Authority said it had opened a formal inquiry to see if 2Day FM had breached its licence conditions and commercial radio codes of practice.

The radio codes state that a radio station must not broadcast words of an identifiable person unless they have given permission for the broadcast. The station has said it tried to contact the station several times before it broadcast the prank.

The authority can impose new licence conditions if it finds a breach or, in extreme cases, can suspend or cancel a broadcasting licence.

British newspapers have reported that Saldanha was found hanged and had left a note for her family. London police said they would not comment on the reports and that details of her death would be presented at an inquest opening on Thursday.

The hospital has said Saldanha had not been criticised or disciplined for taking the call, although Vaz said he wanted an inquiry to establish the facts.

(Reporting by Michael Holden in LONDON and James Grubel in CANBERRA; Editing by Paul Tait)

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