An award for Michael Christian, the royal prank DJ? What a disgrace | Wendy Harmer

One of the two radio presenters at the centre of the royal hoax tragedy has won a national competition. This is corporate cowboy thinking

Are they complete morons? Have they had an empathy bypass? Are they morally bankrupt? It’s so disrespectful to the family! This is “corporate cowboy” thinking. Why the hell would they do it? WTF?

This is the feedback I’m getting from my radio insiders today about the decision by Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) to give Michael Christian their national radio award as Next Top Jock.

You will remember, of course, that Christian was one half of the radio team who made that prank phone call to inquire after the health of the Duchess of Cambridge and her hospitalisation for acute morning sickness. It was followed by the suicide of the British nurse Jacintha Saldana, who was 46 and a mother of two.

Only weeks ago the content of Saldana’s suicide note was made public. In her handwritten note, addressed to her managers at the Edward VII hospital, she said:

“Please accept my apologies. I am truly sorry. Thank you for all your support. I hold the Radio Australians Mel Greig and Michael Christian responsible for this act. Please make them pay my mortgage. I am sorry. Jacintha.”

That was April, now it’s June and whatever you think of the ethics of the call and its subsequent tragic outcome, the decision to award Christian anything shows how out of touch with public mores the management of Southern Cross Austereo truly is.

It has now confirmed them as having a tin ear for common decency. That’s how I’d call this latest effort. Many radio people feel the same. Today they are bewildered and embarrassed. Even on a corporate level, “it’s stupid”, said one of my contacts, “why would you inflame an issue that’s been so damaging?”

I lay the blame directly at the feet of SCA chairman Rhys Holleran. I’d also say “come on down”, Guy Dobson – chief content officer for the network. Here’s a classic “boy’s own” corporate structure that just does not get it. 

“…regardless of all that’s happened in the past few months I’m still at the top of my game,” said Christian, "so it felt good to see my name at the top of the final leaderboard.” Apparently Christian was to be flown to LA as part of his prize as “best in the land”.

I’ve never laid the blame on Christian and his offsider, Mel Greig. Instead I have always asked – where’s the leadership?

What a slap in the face for Saldana’s family. What an appalling message to send to staff. Did they mean to say: “Get your face out there. Do anything. Whatever it takes”? Because that’s how this is being read. And to say it’s not a good look is a wild understatement. 

Would more women in this bastion of the boy’s club that’s radio in Australia have made a difference? 

In my contribution to the Destroy The Joint book, I lamented the lack of women in management in radio, let alone leading voices on air. I was lucky to have as a mentor the brilliant Brad March in the 11 years I was on air for Austereo at 2Day FM. He’s the one who also made Tracy Bartram Queen of Breakfast at Fox FM in Melbourne. He championed the career of Jane Kennedy. He also appointed women to general manager positions in four out of six metro FM outfits. His contribution has now been utterly trashed.

By way of contrast, let’s look at the corporate structure of DMG radio (they’re the ones who bring us strong females: Kate Langbroek, Meshel Laurie et al.) Three of DMG’s key roles are taken by women: Cath O’Connor, CEO; the brilliant Siobhan McKenna, board member and executive director, and Louise Higgins, group general manager. There are no women in the higher echelons of SCA.

As for ARN – who bring us Amanda Keller Chrissie Swan, Yumi Styes and Brigitte Duclos? Here’s a network that is, at least, listening. Female duos on air are bringing in an audience. They know it makes sense to make shows that appeal to more than half of the population and the advertisers they bring. 

Then there’s Southern Cross Austereo. How long till they get with the program?

• This piece was originally published in The Hoopla, part of the Guardian Comment Network


Wendy Harmer for The Hoopla

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