Less than 48 hours after writing an article for MegaphoneOz criticising the English media’s reaction to Kate Middleton’s pregnancy, I find myself discussing the extraordinary behaviour of the Australian media as well.
The British public is outraged at a prank call made by DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian of Sydney radio station 2Day FM to the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London where the Duchess of Cambridge was receiving treatment for acute morning sickness.
The DJs tricked two nurses into unwittingly revealing details of the Duchess’s medical condition by impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles. But the laughs stopped abruptly when the nurse at reception at the time of the call, mother-of-two Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found dead on Friday, a suspected suicide.
In their first public appearance since news of the nurse’s death broke on Friday, the DJs today said they were “heartbroken” at the tragic aftermath of the prank. Earlier they had expressed surprise that their call had gone through due to their “terrible mock British accents”.
Yesterday Southern Cross Austereo, owners of the radio station, confirmed its board of directors had met to discuss the increasing furore over the hoax that has forced the presenters off air and the station to suspend all its advertising.
The hospital’s chairman, Lord Simon Glenarthur, wrote to Austereo on the weekend condemning the prank and saying it resulted in the “humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses”.
“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,” Lord Glenarthur wrote.
“Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station’s management, was truly appalling.”
Austereo chairman Max Moore-Wilton’s reply was made public last night.
“We are all saddened by the events of the last few days. They are truly tragic,” he wrote.
“It is too early to know the full details leading to this tragic event and we are anxious to review the results of an investigation that may be made available to us or made public.
“We can assure you that we will be fully cooperative with all investigations. As we have said in our own statements on the matter, the outcome was unforeseeable and very regrettable.”
Mr Moore-Wilton said the company took immediate action and was “reviewing the broadcast and the processes involved”.
British broadsheets commented disapprovingly that the prank had been considered a “coup” Down Under, mentioning how Australian commentators, comedians and broadcasters had spoken out in support of Greig and Christian.
A full length photograph of Greig was accusingly printed on the front page of The Daily Telegraph yesterday morning and a favourite writer of mine, Giles Coren, posted on his Twitter page “Has anyone who isn’t an utter c*** ever made a prank phone call? They’re so unfunny. So…Australian. Bad day for Oz.”
British police have also contacted Australian police about a possible probe into the prank call and there are questions about whether the DJs broke laws after they recorded the private conversation when they pretended to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.
There are also questions about whether the radio station breached its code of conduct and whether the Australian Communications and Media Authority is likely to take any action.
Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran said no laws were broken.
After this devastating issue, perhaps it is time for Australia to reassess its media privacy laws as Britain did last year. Strict privacy laws are now in place in the UK after the scandal of Rupert Murdoch’s now defunct newspaper News of the World and the subsequent Leveson inquiry.