Australia's media watchdog has found the radio station behind a tragic prank call to the Duchess of Cambridge's hospital broke the law, according to confidential initial findings.
The findings, which were revealed during a court hearing in Sydney, are from an interim report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority which found the station, 2Day FM, acted illegally by recording and broadcasting a conversation without the consent of the hospital.
The watchdog has been investigating the prank call by the station last December in which two hosts posed as the Prince of Wales and the Queen and duped a British nurse into revealing details about the Duchess of Cambridge's health. The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, 46, took her own life three days later.
The interim report has not been released but its findings emerged during a Federal Court hearing today after the station took legal action to try to block the watchdog's investigation
The court heard that the report found the station breached the Surveillance Devices Act in the state of New South Wales – a finding which could lead the watchdog to suspend the broadcaster's radio licence or even revoke it altogether. The station has a history of clashes with the watchdog and is the only radio station in Australia which is subject to specific conditions.
It also emerged during the hearing that police are investigating the conduct of the station and have interviewed numerous employees.
The two hosts, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, issued public apologies after the incident and insisted it was only intended to be a "harmless prank".
Ms Greig has not returned to work and is suing the broadcaster for "failing to provide a safe workplace”; she has offered to appear at the British inquest into Ms Saldanha's death.
Mr Christian has returned to the air and was awarded a national "top jock" prize by the broadcaster earlier this year.
The station's owner, Southern Cross Media Group, has taken legal action, claiming the media watchdog has no right to determine whether the station committed a crime.
The barrister for the station, Bruce McClintock SC, said the watchdog was acting like a "policeman, prosecution, prison warden, judge, jury and parole officer".
"The courts are the place, and the only place, where determination of criminal guilt can be made," he told the court.
He said the release of detrimental findings by the watchdog could prompt the media to claim that "we have been found guilty of a criminal offence" and could prejudice any trials of the station's staff. Such findings would do "enormous damage" to the station, he said.
The watchdog's barrister, Neil Williams SC, said it was not carrying out a "judicial function" and was entitled to carry out its statutory duty.