Radio hosts blamed after nurse's death
Twitter accounts, Facebook posts for DJs deleted after stunt
The hashtag #royalprank had trended shortly after the radio stunt
One of the nurses duped by a prank phone call about Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, apparently committed suicide on Friday, and many social media users were quick to point fingers at the two radio hosts who made the call and then promoted it on Facebook.
Australian radio station 2DayFM posted audio of the call on its Facebook page Wednesday with the caption, “Listen to the prank that the world is talking about. Can you believe Mel and MC got away with these dodgy accents?”
The hashtag #royalprank was retweeted more than 15,000 times on Twitter after the radio station began promoting the call. It continued to be used after news of the nurse’s death.
Catherine, the pregnant wife of Britain’s Prince William, had been hospitalized with severe morning sickness. The prank became worldwide news as the nurse, believing the DJs were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, forwarded the call to a second nurse who eventually revealed details of the former Kate Middleton’s condition.
Concerns over privacy and the media, which had surfaced in England during the News of the World scandal and again when topless photos taken of Catherine were published, were quickly reignited.
But Prince Charles himself joked about the incident after being contacted by the radio station. News of the prank was also widely shared on social networks, with at least 5,000 links created and shared between Tuesday and Thursday.
At the time, royal commentator Robert Jobson said he did not believe the radio call had been intended as a serious invasion of privacy.
The hospital identified the nurse as Jacintha Saldanha. As news of her death spread, commenters flooded the 2DayFM Facebook page.
A user named Gary Dawson posted, “Shame for still having this sick call on website!! Shame on the DJs and shame on the radio station.”
At 10:54 a.m. ET, 700 comments had been posted since Wednesday. By 11:15 a.m. ET, the number had risen to more than 1,100 and was still growing rapidly. The Facebook page Hot30 Countdown, also used to promote the two DJs, did not have a post about the prank, but that didn’t stop people from commenting there.
The 2DayFM posts, including the audio of the prank, were deleted by 11:41 a.m.
Although it is unclear what scrutiny Saldanha had been under since the prank, the hospital said in a statement that it had been supporting her. Neither police nor the hospital had publicly blamed the radio station for Saldanha’s death.
But on Saturday the hospital released this statement:
“King Edward VII’s Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call,” wrote hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur.
Management’s decision then to broadcast the recorded call “was truly appalling,” said Lord Glenarthur in the letter addressed to Max Moore-Wilton, chairman of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns the radio station.
“The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients.
“The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words.”
Lord Glenarthur called on the radio station to take steps “to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.”
At St. James’s Palace, a spokesman said, “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha.”
The Twitter account for radio host Michael Christian (@MContheradio) had included five updates about the prank on Friday morning. By 11:22 a.m., the account had been deleted. The account for co-host Mel Greig (@MelGreigHot30) was also deleted. The station and its parent company, Southern Cross Austereo released the following:
“Chief Executive Officer Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters, they are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they not comment about the circumstances. SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy.”
The full statement was also posted to the 2Day FM Facebook page and in one hour received more than 4,400 comments and 234 shares. One comment linked to an online petition to fire Greig and Christian. At the time of this writing it had received 1,985 online signatures from around the world. The introduction states, “Journalists should be held to higher standards.”
But there were also calls for a step back from the immediate tragedy.
“Do you know why patriots like myself defend this kind of speech until my dying breath?” posted a CNN commenter. “To find that answer, ask yourself this: Who decides what kind of speech is appropriate or inappropriate? Who decides what kind of speech is offensive or not? What if you have the power to decide? At what point does an opinion that differs from yours become offensive to you? And what will be the penalty for my supposed offense?
“We can never afford to go down the road if defining right speech from wrong speech. It throws everything else into doubt and opens the doorway for tyrants and the fringe to persecute those who are not like minded.
“The nurse, for whatever personal reasons she might have clearly over-reacted. It is sad. But that is all it is. Nobody should be prosecuted or penalized over this.”
Others fired back, arguing that not all speech is protected and that no one has immunity from the negative effects of reckless actions. Still others said the discussion was pointless, since “Australia does not have explicit freedom of speech in any constitutional or statutory declaration of rights”
Another CNN commenter offered this:
“Let us also remember that she was not a native English speaker - she was front line reception at a major international private hospital where ability in many languages is the priority, and those calling may be all of stressed, powerful, and arrogant - not people to be called upon to give references before being given assistance. And that could not have been changed simply because a UK royal was in the building. So the supposed point of the “prank” - Australian xenophobic mockery of an English accent - was actually a gross exhibition of cruel racism in a world far larger than they could apparently imagine, on top of a gross breach of medical privacy, data protection, and journalistic ethics, which the radio station should never have allowed, and no one should have re-broadcast.”
“Here’s a social experiment for you,” wrote James Breen on the Hot30 Countdown page. “Try treating people with common decency and respect.”