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Perils of taking the joke too far

Nurse Saldanha would be alive today if the Australian DJs had come clean with her after the hoax call

Gulf News

It was a harmless, silly prank that resulted in the loss of an innocent human life. Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old nurse described as hard-working and dedicated by co-workers, was found dead last Friday, three days after radio announcers Michael Christian and Mel Greig picked up the phone and made that infamous hoax call.

Posing as members of the royal family, the Australian radio hosts were seeking information about the Duchess of Cambridge who was being treated at the King Edward VII Hospital in London for severe morning sickness.

Everyone assumed Saldanha killed herself even before British authorities made public the results of her autopsy. In these digital times, everyone’s been eager to pass judgment and quick to label the dead woman as weak even though there have been no reports of previous suicide attempts or mention of any history of depression. No one will ever know what went through her mind in the aftermath of the hoax call which received wide international coverage long before her unfortunate death.

The incident has sparked extreme reactions with many in the traditional media feeling sympathetic towards Greig and Christian while online commentators have been brutal and unforgiving.

“Prank calls are made every day, on every radio station in every country around the world, and they have been for a long time and no-one could’ve imagined this to happen,’’ Christian told Channel Nine’s A Current Affair programme presenter Tracy Grimshaw.

Yes, we all love to poke fun at others, we all love to share a good laugh. But laughing at someone and laughing with someone are two separate things. Making fun of someone, and then crowing about it as being a ‘career highlight’, is quite simply juvenile and reeks of lack of maturity.

Calling up unsuspecting people and pretending to be someone else is only agreeable if you share the joke with the unwitting ‘victim’.

The two radio hosts and Sydney-based 2Day FM would probably have diminished responsibility if they had the foresight to reveal their real identities once they managed to get through to the nurse caring for the Duchess of Cambridge.

Who knows, if Greig and Christian had revealed the true nature of their call, things would have turned out differently. Maybe everyone in the nurses station at King Edward VII Hospital would have shared a big laugh about having been fooled so easily.

Who knows, Saldanha would have felt embarrassed and sheepish instead of humiliated and depressed.

The only reason there has been this huge uproar over this incident is because Saldanha was found dead. Let’s consider an alternative scenario. What if she had not died? What if she had lived, but lost her job in case the hospital had deemed her action as a breach of its medical confidentiality? No one could have predicted the horrible consequence of the hoax call, but as members of a civil society, the onus lies upon us to accept responsibility for the repercussions of our actions.

If the prank was so harmless, the two RJs should not be full of remorse and undergoing ‘extensive psychological counselling’ to deal with the outcome. They should quite simply be able to shrug it off as unexpected collateral damage. The radio station would not be obliged to donate $500,000 from its advertising profits to the nurse’s family.

Sadly, Saldanha will never see her children get married or witness the birth of her grandchildren. I wonder if the grieving members of her family feel the ill-fated call was “silly and harmless”.

The prank was arguably harmless, but Saldanha would have been alive today if that call had not been made in the first place.