Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who had transferred the call from 2Day FM Summer 30 presenters Mel Greig and Michael “MC” Christian has been found dead on Friday in her nurse’s residence. Saldanha had previously been on the receiving end of a “hilarious” prank call earlier in the week, when the two Australian radio DJs managed to get the hospital to reveal confidential patient information about the Duchess of Cambridge.
She leaves behind two teenage children.
Obviously targeting a sick pregnant woman and the people who are trying to care for her is hilarious, at least according to the radio station which has in the past courted controversy when DJ Kyle Sandilands askeda 14 year old about her sex life on air. In that case, the “harmless” prank backfired when the 14 year old revealed that she had been raped when she was 12. But never mind, how could the DJs or producers ever have guessed that it would have backfired like that? Clearly the station takes this view anyway, seeing as they are still on air.
The sad fact is that if these two DJs are fired, it won’t be because of the severity of their actions but because they are not as well known and popular as Kyle Sandilands who also got in trouble last year for calling a female journalist a “fat slag” on air and saying, “You haven’t got that much titty to be having that low cut a blouse. Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.”
The radio station obviously cares more about ratings than ethics or integrity but they are also regulated by a lax system that is not fit for purpose. It is against Australian Communications and Media Authority regulations for a news broadcast to reveal private patient information, but in Australia, radio stations aren’t covered by the definition of a news broadcast, so despite being deplorable, the stunt wasn’t in violation of any rules. Perhaps the tragedy of Jacintha Saldanha will change this. I hope so. Even as criticism was mounting over the week about the sick violation of privacy, and an insincere apology by the DJs, both they and the station were still advertising the prank, even when the body had been found.
Unsurprisingly many people have reacted with anger at the news, inundating the website, Facebook page and Twitter account with criticism and calling on an advertiser boycott. The station and the DJs have bravely responded by deleting these accounts. I would have thought they would be happy with 10,000 comments on their latest Facebook post, since they’re so “controversial” and whatnot, apparently though the heat was too hot to handle.
Not all sections of the Australian media agree with public opinion however. Mumbrella, a usually respected online platform, in their infinite wisdom let the silly, overreacting public know that their tweets and posts were wrong. According to writer Tim Burrowes the pair “don’t have blood on their hands” and although they set the wheels in motion, aren’t responsible for the death. Many commenters have helpfully suggested the blame lies with the hospital bosses, who were probably disciplining her, despite statements from the hospital that they were not going to do anything of the kind before the tragedy. The royal family had also given statements to say they did not blame the hospital and were not going to take any action.
Burrowes likens Tuesday’s prank with an ethical dilemma his boss had faced as a journalist. A man had rung the publication he was writing for, begging for details of his trial not to be published. When the paper chose to publish the story anyway, the man killed himself. Burrowes contemplates the ethical issues faced by journalists and concludes that usually it is justified for a public interest story to be published, even if it causes harm to those involved.
The piece seems to miss the obvious point, one that many commenters have identified, these radio hosts are not journalists and their charming little prank was not a news story. There is a huge difference between journalists who report the news as it happens and a collection of little cretins (and yes they are cretins) deliberately seeking to invade the privacy of a sick pregnant woman, and not in the name of “news” but purely for entertainment. There is no public interest here and the fact that some journalists cannot see the difference is very disturbing.
This attitude of “get the story at any cost” has shown itself over time to be very damaging not only for the people who are the victims of press intrusion but for society as a whole. Yet still journalists put themselves on a pedestal crying out about the greater good and the public right to information. We’re in a dangerous spot when public interest justifies hacking a dead girl’s phone or where the private lives of celebrities are seen as news worthy. In an age where anyone with a smart phone or a laptop can start a blog or create a news story, I appreciate that traditional journalists want to maintain their authority. I would go as far to say that traditional journalism is in a crisis, although I don’t agree this is a bad thing.
Hopefully the British government will implement the findings of the Leveson inquiry and that the Australian Communications and Media Authority will change its regulations to bring commercial radio stations to account. In the meantime the rest of us have a duty to call the press out when they cross the line. Mel Greig, Michael Christian, the 2Day FM producers, execs and lawyers do have blood on their hands and we need to make sure they are not able to just sweep it under the carpet in the name of “journalism”. Because pranking is not really journalism is it? It’s bullying, and we all know that bullying can have tragic consequences.
Since publication another Australian news outlet, The Age has posted an article apologising for the DJs. Jill Stark says we should feel sorry for them since they were just doing their job and are now facing a barrage of abuse on social media. Stark writes:
“Every day we interview strangers, with little knowledge of what might be going on in their personal lives, or how well-equipped they are to handle the spotlight.”
So yet again, we have a journalist who can’t see the difference between a genuine public interest story and a cruel prank that preyed on busy nurses and a pregnant woman. Stark says that it wasn’t the call that caused the suicide but the subsequent media shit storm. Dear Jill and everyone else trying to shift the blame: they pranked the royal family, they knew this would cause a huge impact if they pulled it off, stop making excuses for them. Those responsible need to face the consequences of their actions, even if those consequences are more extreme than they ever imagined.