We interrupt this broadcast to ask you to spare a thought for two Australian radio jockeys who have been vilified for simply doing their job — too well.
Mel Greig and Michael Christian, presenters on 2Day FM, managed to pull off a prank call right through from their Sydney station to the private ward in a private hospital in London where Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, was being treated last week for severe morning sickness.
News reports of their hoax described how the two, with one barking like a corgi in the background, put on the worst imitation of the Queen, and managed to convince staff that they were the Queen and Prince Phillip calling to check up on the well-being of their granddaughter-in-law.
Sadly though, this stunt backfired.
Nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who fielded the hoax call from Greig and Christian, was found dead last Friday apparently after committing suicide. I feel sorry for her — she believed there was no option left for her other than to end her life. She did, after all, suffer the dishonour of taking the call from Greig and Christian and putting it through to another nurse closer to Kate. Whether she was admonished by superiors or Buckingham Palace had a hissy fit for her actions has yet to emerge.
What has emerged, however, are howls of protest. The airwaves have filled with enough hand wringing and sanctimonious chatter to fill volumes — when all any listener had to do was simply turn down the volume itself on their radio, opt not to listen, tune in to another station or listen to their own MP3s instead of the inane banter radio audiences love. The radio station itself is donating $500,000 (Dh1.83 million) to Saldanha’s family. I myself would not donate a penny. Suicide is the most selfish of acts and insurers rightly do not pay when the terrible deed is done.
The Australian broadcast standards commission is investigating the prank call. Why? It happened, was vetted by the station managers and lawyers and provided the ratings boost it was supposed to do. Such calls are the staple of radio jockeys. The tragedy is not the call itself, but the fragile nature of Saldanha who chose to end her own life dangling and kicking and choking for breath at the end of a rope.
How would regulators react now to Orson Wells? His War of the Worlds radio play sent thousands into a tizzy in 1938, when he managed to convince certain dumb Americans that the planet was being invaded by Martians.
In all of my research — thank you Google and history.com — I cannot find a single reference to a death or injury resulting from this radio play. And don’t forget, it was in a time where internet and television were the stuff of science fiction itself.
Let’s also consider that in Australia, there’s a friendly dislike of Pohms. Pohms? Yes. Back in the day, when you needed a criminal record to get into the colony — goods and prisoners were stamped Property Of His Majesty, or Pohm. And when ladies travelled to Botany Bay or Van Diemen’s Land — which they rarely did, they liked to avoid the sun during the long voyage and desired shaded cabins. Their luggage was stamped Posh — Port Out, Starboard Home. Greig and Christian are not villains in this affair. They achieved what they set out to do. They pulled off a coup and were feted for it. They put on their worst Pohm accent, barked like corgis, called the hospital and were put through. Outside the private hospital at the time, the tabloid press corps were assembled, snapping images of anything that moved, came or went. Rest assured, any and every reporter worth his or her salt were trying to penetrate the security cordon of that hospital. None succeeded.
But Greig and Christian did.
With humorous deceit, horrible accents and fake barks — and the approval of their bosses — Greig and Christian got their 15 minutes of fame.
Do they deserve 15 minutes of shame?
Hardly. They simply did what they were expected to do — entertain.
They are not responsible for the actions of a fragile person who opted to end her life herself on her own terms.
Is our world now — with internet and television, radio and telephone calls — so interconnected that an action in Sydney has a reaction in a suburban London home?
Greig and Christian will live in search of that answer for the rest of their careers — off air. More’s the pity.