How far is too far? When does prank become crime? Humour become regret? Let’s take a look into the recent past to determine where to draw the line, and where to lay blame where blame is due…
Australian DJ Michael Christian was admitted back on air, broadcasting on Fox FM in Melbourne, just two months after he played a part in murdering NHS nurse, Jacintha Saldanha.
On 7th December 2012, she was discovered in her nurse’s quarters by a colleague, having hanged herself. This shocking incident was induced by the famous prank call from Michael Christian and his fellow DJ, Mel Grieg, when they pretended to be none other than Prince Philip and the Queen herself. They called King Edward VII’s hospital with the naive aim of acquiring personal details about the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge (who was being treated for morning sickness). Jacintha was the nurse who unknowingly transferred the call, thinking the DJ’s were telling the truth. The recording of the call on the Australian radio channel 2Day FM was uncomfortable to listen to, and frankly, shameful. Jacintha Saldanha, mother of Lisha, 14, and Junal, 17, moved to the UK from Mangalore in south-west India a decade ago. However, Jacintha had already tried to commit suicide twice before. In December 2011 she took an overdose of pills, and in January 2012 she suffered injuries in an alleged “fall” and was diagnosed and treated for depression. Whether the prank call was the final straw in a long history of misery and hardship for her, or she was so ashamed of herself that she lost focus of what really mattered in life, in her suicide note she blamed the two DJ’s for her decision.
Polls showed that 68% of the Australian public believed it wasn’t their fault, however, and the Aussie press accused the British media of playing a “blame game”. The pair had to receive counselling when the death was plastered all over the faces of all of Australia’s biggest newspapers and they found a plethora of hate mail coming their way. Andrew Bolt wrote in the Herald Sun:
“To be guilty of bad taste is one thing but to be held guilty of manslaughter is a monstrously unfair other, and makes the finger pointers seem hypocrites. Want to push more people over the edge? Keep on screaming ‘blood on their hands’.”
Furthermore, a copycat website purporting to be the radio station’s official page was set up and asked users whether they would commit suicide if they received a prank call, stating, “Comment if you would kill yourself if you got prank called and like if you wouldn’t kill yourself.” This shocked and outraged thousands, especially when an unknown YouTube user, masquerading as a member of the internet activist group, Anonymous, made a threat aimed at the DJs and Rhys Holleran, chief executive officer of the company. A computer-generated voice menacingly accused them of murder while on screen lurked a threatening figure wielding the Anonymous group’s signature Guy Fawkes mask.
Prank calls that have gone disastrously wrong are not a new issue. Jonathon Ross’ career, for example, will always be haunted by the scandal with Russell Brand when they left actor Andrew Sachs inappropriate messages regarding a fictional relationship between Brand and his granddaughter. They even joked about Sachs committing suicide. The brunt of the outrage came primarily from the show’s viewers and the public in general and Ross ended up losing $2 million over the scandal. With the nature of modern entertainment in this day and age, there will always be problems like this cropping up, what we can only hope is that the aftermath can be controlled.
Though it was deemed that there was insufficient evidence to actually charge Christian and Grieg with manslaughter, what they did will forever tarnish not only their station, but the hospital involved and the very royal pregnancy itself.
As I said… we must lay blame where blame is due…