A word on impersonation

So it seems that a tweet I posted earlier tonight really hit a chord with the online zeitgeist.

My tweet specifically called for the sacking of 2DayFM Sydney presenters Mel Greig, Michael Christian & their producers in respect of their impersonating members of the British Royal Family when calling a hospital for the sole purpose of obtaining details about the medical condition of the Dutchess of Cambridge.

For those who don’t know, Jacintha Saldanha – the hospital nurse/receptionist who took this prank call and disclosed information she likely wasn’t supposed to has been found dead this morning UK time, suspected to have committed suicide at a location near her place of employment, King Edward VII’s Hospital.

As of writing, my tweet has reteeted by no less than 296 308 individuals in the space of two 16 hours, with a current estimated combined reach of over 20,000 100,000+ persons. It has been retweeted so many times that Twitter’s own email engine that notifies customers of retweets stopped sending me messages an hour ago. This is not withstanding that my iPad continues to chime every 30-60sec informing of a new retweet.

Anyway, background noise aside – my posting of my thoughts to Facebook lead to some friends raising a couple of interesting points and alternative views in respect of the story. These friends posited views including:

  • “If the nurse followed the rules, it would have never got to this point.”
  • “And she could have been planning to top herself for days or have a history of mental illness.”
  • “Yes it is sad. Yes the prank was in bad taste but you cannot control a persons mental state or predict it. The correlation is very loose.”

Now I don’t disagree with those points one bit – they are perfectly valid views to express, and obviously none of us can even beging to understand if there are any other factors outside of this prank call which could have contibuted to this lady taking her own life.

However, one must look at the flipside of this. While these points of view may centre around the latin falacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (after it, therefore because of it), one must shine a light directly at all those parties involved in the execution and broadcast of the prank.

The question therefore must be asked: Could a normal person reasonably forsee that the prank would obtain information to which those doing so were not entitled, and could the broadcast of this information have forseeably lead to sustained, significant public embarassment for the nurse in question should their identity be revealled.

My answer to those questions, as a normal person, would be yes – on both counts.

I am firmly of the view that any normal, reasonable person could have forseen this as an outcome. One need only look at the way the British press has operated in recent times – leading to the establishment of a major parlimentary enquiry lead by Lord Justice Leveson that will most likely lead to more stringent press regulation.

Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence

Anyone with a background in any form of broadcasting knows full well that the prank as conducted was not only a gross invasion of privacy by attempting to impersonate someone – much less members of that countries royal family, but the sheer number of offences the two hosts plus others involved have committed under Australian, UK and EU law.

The first of these that comes to mind Criminal Code (Cwlth) 1995, Section 474.17:

474.17 Using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence

(1) A person is guilty of an offence if:
(a) the person uses a carriage service; and
(b) the person does so in a way (whether by the method of use or the content of a communication, or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.

Penalty: Imprisonment for 3 years.

The call to the hospital in London would have originated from a telephone service operated by, from, or transiting a carriage service within Australia, therefore the placing of that telephone call would fall within the definitions of the act, but also 474.17 and other aspects of the Commonwealth and NSW criminal codes.

And this is before we even consider offences under UK or EU criminal statutes, as the call was terminated in those locales, and therefore such activity also gives rise to criminal liability there. We need not re-visit the outrage uncovered during the Levenson Enquiry of the large scale of ignorance, invasion of privacy and illegal activity conducted by the press solely for the purpose of a story.

The radio codes of practice

We also have to look at that the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice which exist for the industry because of statuatory legislation. These codes are ones which are legally binding tha all broadcasters legally have to follow, and can be enforced by the regulatory agency when breached.

Their existance and legal standing is empowered by Section 43 of the Broadcasting Services Act 1992.

The Commercial Radio Codes of Practice make a number of statements in respect of this kind of content:

9.1 Subject to Codes 9.2 to 9.3 below, a licensee must not broadcast a program which, in all of the circumstances:
(a) treats participants in live hosted entertainment programs in a highly demeaning or highly exploitative manner;

One could argue that the impersonation of members of the royal family for the sole purpose of gaining information on a member of the royal household would constitute treating a participant, unknowingly, in a “highly exploitative manner“.

Reasonable privacy, and an invalid argument of public interest

One area of the codes that has yet to be legally tested is if programs that would be considered as live entertainment could actually be reclassified as news and current affairs programs – on account that the presenters frequently engage in updating their audience with such information, and they usually broadcast news at frequent intervals.

If this was tested legally, and found that the radio show in question could be treated as news and current affairs programs under the codes of practice, Section 2.1 of same then comes into play. It states:

“2.1 News programs (including news flashes) broadcast by a licensee must:
(d) not use material relating to a person‟s personal or private affairs, or which invades an individual‟s privacy, unless there is a public interest in broadcasting such information.”

On this point, the argument of public interest fails. The official media channel for the party in question, being the Press Office of St James Palace did issue a media release containing reasonable detail in respect of the Dutchess’s hospitalisation. It can be reasonably argued that no more information other than what was contained in that release needed to be made available as there wasn’t a clear public interest reason for doing so.

Having dispensed with the public interest argument, we then must look at if the action was an invasion of an individuals privacy. On that case, the lay person must say yes. Any reasonable person would have known that calling up any such place for information on a patient and impersonating a member of their family to do so was both illegal and improper, and would unreasonably invade the privacy of both the Duke and Dutchess of Cambridge, as well as their extended family and of course the British Monarcy.

Station exhibited poor moral judgement

And then we have to look at the moral aspect of it. You’d have to be a pretty dumb person not to know the undue and unnecessary pressure this would put on the poor women taking the call.

While I grant that she may have not acted within relevant professional standards and requirements in respect of information disclosure, the publication of the prank and the obvious subsequent naming of the poor lady, would forseeably lead to undue emotional stresses which was likely to have either caused, or contributed to, the reasons behind her reported suicide.

2DayFM has not learned its lesson

2DayFM has been frequently critisised by the regulator for its breaches of the codes of practice. Some of the stations more notable breaches in recent times include:

  1. 2006: Broadcasting inappropriate sexual material during Lowie’s Hot 30 Countdown
  2. 2010: Failed to provide protection for children participating in live hosted entertainment programs broadcast by 2DAY-FM, resulting in a license condition being imposed.
  3. May 2012: Comments by Kyle Sandilands breach decency standards, where the station had a second license condition imposed on it after the aforementioned presenter “broadcast[ed] indecent content and content that demeans women or girls“.

The imposing of the May 2012 license condition was also appealed by the station to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, who ruled to uphold ACMA’s decision to impose the condition.

So, where do we go from here?

In the UK, the debate about who is fit and proper to hold licenses or positions that allow them to act as a media outlet is one that continues. It’s also a debate, that whilst not as intense, is being had in Australia.

Should the laws be changed so that repeat offenders can be dealt with more swiftly? Yes.

Should the laws be changed so that media outlets who repeatidly breach the expected standards lose their right to broadcast?

Would these two outcomes combined force media companies to be more cautious in how they do business to protect their assets, by not allowing presenters like those named above to conduct stupid pranks, if they knew the government could close them down and take everything they own and have built with the stroke of a few pens? I submit they would be more cautious, and put their presenters on much shorter leashes given the financial risk to them if they constantly make missteps – particually ones that lead such tragic circumstances.

Transcript: Passengers of size & reclining seats

So earlier today I mentioned I’d done a talkback segment discussing the issues related to passengers of size and people who recline their seats in economy.

The team at the APEX Blog have run the audio, and for those who just want to read then here is the transcript.

Audio transcript

Station:                                Radio 882 6PR (FM), Perth, Western Australia
Date:                     Sunday 26 November 2011
Program:             Sunday Session with Jason Jordan.
Topic:                    Air travel – passengers of size, people reclining seats.

Length:                 9min 26sec
              Jason Jordan – Announcer (JJ)
Ray Palmer, Social commentator – Studio Guest (SG)
Michael Harris – Caller (MH)

Transcript by Michael Harris, Errors and Omissions Excepted (E&OE).

Jason Jordan (JJ) Announcer: …Michael from Joondalup joins us now, g’day Michael.

Michael Harris (MH): G’day Jason, pleasure to talk with you guys this afternoon.

JJ: No problem at all. Good to have you on board, what have you got to say about all of this?

MH: Well, there’s a couple of things we need to consider firstly Jason in regards to passengers of size, both in width and in height, which is a couple of legislative things. Now there’s no actual legislation in Australia, either in the Disability Discrimination Act or the Civil Aviation Act which deals with passengers of size.

So, in terms of how the airlines handle it, this is down to a policy issue. So it’s down to them as to how they deal with these sort of passengers.

For me, my view being an aviation enthusiast and industry watcher is that you as a passenger of size have a personal reasonability to your fellow passengers.

If you know that you know that you can’t fit in an airline seat, you might spill over into the seat or say you 6″3′ or 6″4′ and a 31 or 32 inch seat pitch is the norm in Australia, and you can’t fit in to, you need to take a personal responsibility for that situation and come to an arrangement with the airline beforehand.

JJ: Now there are certain seats that don’t have that sort of seat pitch out there like the… what do they call them, row…

MH: the exit row seats

JJ: Exit row seats, yeah

MH: yep, so as a person as a passenger of size, you have a personal responsibility to call the airline to make arrangements for your situation, say I know it’s not easy, you know, you can feel personal shame and embarrassment, piratically if are an obese person, but you do need to admit that to the airline and say “Hey, I’m a very large passenger, I might be able to fit in one seat, how can we work around this, so I can fly and fly comfortably?”.

JJ: So, it’s not fair on you, but it’s even more unfair for the people who have to sit next to you.

MH: And that’s correct. As you said, yes, that’s right the average width of a seat internationally in economy is about 43.8cm, and you buy and air ticket to be comfortable within the confines of the seat you’ve been sold.

MH: I’ve had issues, myself previously, not to do with passengers of size, ar, but at one time I had to fly with a bro, with a fractured rib. Um, regret ably my seat mates were all quite broad shouldered which left me a little squashed against the window bulkhead of the plane. OK, it’s not comfortable, I can deal with it, but I’d still like to comfortable on my flight.

MH: Imagine having that broken rib and being sat next to a passenger of size?

JJ: Humm…

MH: …who was flopping over into your seat basically.

[Laughter in studio]

JJ: Um

MH: It’s not, it’s not comfortable for anyone whose been in that situation. But yeah, the legislative environment in Australia means it’s up to the airlines as a matter of policy. Um, and because if it’s a medically diagnosed condition which is causing their obesity, then the Disability Discrimination Act applies. So, they have to look after you accordingly, because you present a medical certificate and they deal with it how they would any other passenger with a medical need.

But if you’re just a passenger of size because of lifestyle choices, then you need to take that personal responsibility to make sure both you’re comfortable and the people around you can fly comfortable…

JJ: So, what direction do you think the airlines are eventually going to go in? Are they going to force people to buy two seats or they’ll have wider seats eventually for people of size?

MH: Listen, wider seats won’t be an option practically on commercial jetliners, you know anything which is currently in production or planned for production. Seating space is at a premium, practically as they make high yield economy seats so they’re selling as many as they can, and fitting in as many as they can – and if they could they certainly would reduce seat width and pitches but that’s simply not possible.

Ah, um, so that’s not going to happen. We probably have to look towards the US example Jason of where they’ve gone, and a lot of the airlines in the US, practically Southwest and Continential have put in place policies where if you are a passenger of size you will have to buy a second seat or or they can give you a second seat at half price, or if there’s not too many people on the plane they can set it up so they can give a vacant seat next to you to make sure you and your other passengers are comfortable. But it’s a by airline basis.

JJ: I was going to say, what rights have I got? Let’s say I’m just doing the Perth to Sydney hop and you know where only talking four hours there, or just under,

MH: Well

JJ: If I get stuck next to two really, really big people it’s not going to make for a very pleasant flight for me. [undechiphered] do I have any rights there?

MH: Well, that’s where really the Competition and Consumer Act would come in. Um, I mean from a public relations perspective, practically in the age of social media, so let’s say it’s you Jason for example. If in fact let’s use an even more recent example, not related to passengers of size – but where you have famous people tweeting about airlines and problems.

Um, if you might recall, um a British comedian Stephen Fry left his wallet on a plane after it was diverted to Dubai. Now that gets a lot of traction with followers.

Let’s say you Jason were in that actual scenario. So there’s a public relations aspect to that for the airline, so the bad publicity. In terms of your rights, you could, you know, easily ask the airline for a refund or some consideration for the inconvenience caused, or you could reasonably say I wasn’t provided the service I paid for, as in I wasn’t given a seat where I was able to enjoy my flights.

Studio Guest (SG): Mike, Mike, can I just interject there for just one sec. What you’re saying is extremely clarifying and articulate about the airline industry and I’ve learned some stuff listening to you. But what about the safety risks of an obese person on a plane, who say struggles to fit into the toilet. And um..

MH: Ok

SG: And, are, how does that work?

MH: Ok, well that’s where the Civil Aviation regulations kick in. Um, now airlines have to make sure that any person boarding the plane, um, is able to have appropriate assistance to look after themselves, from obviously a toiletry perspective and a medical perspective. Um, airlines staff are actually prohibited by CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority) from assisting you to go to the toilet or to administer medication – needle or what other stuff.

So, yeah, it’s a bit more personal responsibility.

SG: What about the, OK, forget seating arrangements then, what about this. If I want to fly to China tomorrow, and I want to bring my luggage and it’s overweight by 20kgs I gotta spend ridiculous amounts of money to get that there.

MH: [Indecipherable]

SG: So a human being that weighs an extra 100kgs, why is it that he can just get on there? Why shouldn’t he have to pay more of a premium ’cause of the added weight that he’s going to be putting on?

MH: Its not that he has to pay more of a premium, [indechiperable]

SG: But I’m saying he should Mick, because at the end of the day, he’s, he’s, let’s say he’s got a, he weighs 180 [kgs], I weigh 100 [kgs], and I’ve got an 80kg suitcase. We’re exactly the same weight on, but I’m paying more. Why is that?

MH: I understand that. Um, there’s really no hard and fast thing on it. It’s really the airline take the policy [decision] they choose – if they feel that the passenger isn’t going to be able to fit in – they apply their policies to make sure that that passenger and others are comfortable as possible. There’s no hard and fast published policies from Australian airlines practically on this issue, so they deal with it on a case by case basis.

JJ: Michael, before I let you go

MH: Yep

JJ: And we’ve got a little bit of echo happening on the line now. But before I let you go, what’s your thoughts on people slamming their seats back and taking up some of my space?

MH: [chuckles] Um, yeah that’s an interesting one. Just quickly before we divert off that Jason – um, there is a legal issue where you have to look towards Canada on the passengers of size, a similar legal system to Australia, um where they have looked at this issue and it was actually ruled against the airlines that by charging passengers of size more they were actually proclivity discriminating them. So the airlines have had to come up with processes to look after them.

In terms of slamming seat backs, um, that’s actually inspired a bit of a cottage industry, um practically within the frequent flyer communities. I know of at least one product in the US where they’ve developed a more molded plastic piece which is a jam to stop someone reclining.

JJ: I know the one, kneedefender.com.

MH: That’s the one. You’ve got people who will also use water bottles or something of a similar size to stop that. Um, four hours is actually a long flight Jason, so even though you see it as domestic short haul – I mean don’t forget that it’s five hours coming back from the east coast in Australia. Um, Yeah, it’s still a long flight and some people need to stretch. One or two hours is probably closer to shorthaul.

Yes, OK, people have a right to recline that seat, that comes with what they pay for – but they should do it responsibly.

Don’t thrust your seat back instantly; only go back as far as you need to. Or if you do need to recline the seat, don’t do it close to a meal service or just let the passenger behind you that hey “I’m about to recline my seat, is it going to cause you any discomfort”. You know, it’s not hard.

SG: These seats should have reverse beepers..

[laughter from studio and caller]

MH: Ah, if they had reverse beepers, I fly Qantas practically myself, they have that practically on the flight to Sydney, practically if you’re flying a red eye – those reverse beepers would be constantly. It would become more of a nuisance…

JJ: Oh it would be a nightmare, wouldn’t it.

MH: More of a nuisance than the PA announcements from the wonderful cabin crews which all our Australian airlines have. So really, again, same [indechipherable] if you’re a passenger of size – be it you’re quite wide, or you’re quite tall, or if you want to recline your seat – it comes down to personal responsibility.

JJ: I hear ya.

MH: Be considerate of those people around you, if you can – make arrangements with your airline, or even if you’re travelling on public transport like a schedule bus service or something – make arrangements with them. Tell them your issues and work with them so you and everyone else can be as comfortable as possible.

JJ: Far too much common sense there Michael. Thank you so much for joining us.

MH: Pleasure to talk to you both today.

SG: See you Michael.

JJ: Michael from Joondalup there, and are…


A little bit of history: Australian airline TV commercials

After a thread of Australian Frequent Flyer this evening, I was reminded of a Youtube playlist I started last year.

The playlist is a collection of Australian airline commercials produced over the many years – little pieces of industry history that thankfully have found their way online. Some from production masters, but most from VHS tape collections users have digitised and put online.

And some of these are real gems – from the short lived Compass Airlines, the Australian Airlines “you should see us now” campaign, and even some from the 70’s by TAA and Ansett.

So, please enjoy this collection of TV commercials and take a look back into our history. And if you spot any duplicate ads, or find some on Youtube that are missing from this collection, please let me know so I can add them.

SYD, I hate thee

I posted some comments earlier today in relation to an article by Ben Sandilands of the Crikey blog Plane Talking. Ben’s latest insightful post was on the recent spectacle that has been the New South Wales Government’s transport planning initiatives and the impacts on airline travel in and out of Sydney Airport.

The plan, now having passed through the hands of no less than three successive premiers is no closer to delivering fixes for any of Sydney’s transport problems. The latest version of the plan, released in the last couple of days has removed a number of improvements that would have made accessing the airport by road and rail that much easier.

Having just experienced the horror of surface access in and out of the airport, I decided to contribute my 0.02c to the post. Needless to say, its part rant, part analysis of the stupidity that is infrastructure planning and maintenance in Australia.

My two big beefs with Sydney Airport are:

  1. commuter rail rolling-stock being used on an airport service not designed for passengers with bags,
  2. approach roads and drop-off areas so overloaded with cars that it adds an extra 20min to your journey.

Needless to say, until Governments get serious about infrastructure planning, and making private owners of facilities such as Airports keep pace and ahead of the demand curve – we’ll be stuck in the same problems for time immemorial.

Ben et al: apologies in advance, I’m about to rant about SYD because that place drives me around the bend.

I couldn’t agree more with your statement that “Sydney Airport suffers from inadequate surface access by all modes,” judging from my experiences in the last 12 months, and more recently just last week.

The NSW Government needs to go back and sort this issue out – fast.

I used both road and rail for this recent trip. AirportLink is a nightmare, as getting to the platform involves at least two escalators/lifts (three to four if arriving on QF Domestic). SYD’s ticketing infrastructure is woeful, albeit the standalone single-trip EFTPOS/Credit Card terminals do offer a slightly faster method for an uncompleted single type ticket purchase.

Ticketing also needs to be revisited promptly, as while the single trip city price is in comparison to rail and direct bus route options in other Australian capitals, going beyond there is astronomical. Its also not possible to purchase one ticket that can be used for return without handing over your arm, leg and first born.

And then of course there’s the use of double-decked rolling-stock on the line, which fail to offer adequate areas for baggage leaving passengers jammed in the entry/exit if their bags are too heavy to lift/carry to the upper or lower decks. And the issues of passenger needs on rolling-stock for airport services still haven’t been addressed in the Waratah series trains due to enter service this year.

And after all of that, good luck being able to understand which station your train is arriving at so you know where to get off. The speakers on board Comeng, Goninan and Tangara rolling-stock are barely maintained, and combined with the terrible and fast pronunciation of the Conductors – inexperienced passengers aren’t in for a good first impression of the network.

And christ, road. What an unmitigated disaster. Poor signage from the City centre to the airport needs to be addressed so people know how to get there. Most people without a GPS would get lost or seriously confused trying to get their via the signposted route along Regent/Botany, as signage isn’t always present at key intersections along the route.

And then of course there’s trying to get to Domestic along General Holmes Drive, which is jammed solid by the looks of it and from out experience during morning peak. You’ll take 10-15 to traverse this section from Southern Cross/Eastern Distributor before reaching Reginald Ansett…

which is also overloaded as cars back up to drop-off at the pathetically small T2 & T3 decks. You can spend another 5-10min waiting on the elevated roadway just to reach your terminal. Of course this isn’t the problem of the NSW Govt, but Macquarie Airports isn’t doing much to relieve the situation which is firmly in their purview.

I cross my fingers that the NSW Govt. isn’t sitting back waiting for the feds to make a move on a 2nd airport for SYD in the vain hope it will relieve their need to spend on transport infrastructure to their existing major airport. We all know the political willpower just isn’t there for a 2nd airport to become reality any time soon.

Right, bile spent. Normal programming resumed.