Opinion | Columnists

Of prank calls and a suicide: Shock-jocks? Not really

With humorous deceit, horrible accents and fake barks, Greig and Christian got their 15 minutes of fame. Or 15 minutes of shame? Hardly. They simply did what they were supposed to — entertain

  • By Mick O’Reilly, Senior Associate Editor
  • Published: 00:00 December 15, 2012
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

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.

Comments (15)

  1. Added 15:07 December 15, 2012

    It is very easy to try to absolve these individuals of 'responsibility, and to portray Jacintha Saldanha as fragile is offensive in the extreme, she was a hard working mother who took her responsibilities in this matter extremely seriously in that she must have felt she had failed in her sense of professionalism given she had been taken in by these people. Jacintha Saldanha and the Duchess of Cambrifge are the victims here along with Ms Saldana's children. this was not a prank or hoax it was an evil act on the part of 2 individuals in Sydney it is not funny or forgiveable in any way at all!!!

    RN, York, United Kingdom

  2. Added 14:43 December 15, 2012

    I completely agree with Anil's comments 'are the RJ's able to take this prank in stride and laugh at their own selves? Why should we be entertained by showing an opposite person in low light or laugh at seeing their self esteem being lowered?' Well said Anil.....

    Teresa, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 12:08 December 15, 2012

    I do not agree with the Author! These DJs should have known their limits when they play pranks. Most of all, the Radio Station management should take 90% of the blame as they have approved this prank and further, they decided to air it. It was right for them to pay Saldanha's family although this will not bring back their loved one! From the moment this was aired there were widespread condemnations across the UK. The Author seems to approve the actions of the DJ's as it is "their job". Mick, you need to look at this from the poor Lady's perspective. Until the inquiry is over, we wouldn't know what Saldanha has gone through at her work place from her superiors, associates and the Buckingham palace as you have rightly said. We also need to understand what she would have gone through to take such extreme measures. Although suicide is not the solution to problems, not everyone has the rational mindset to find solutions to their problems. As Saldanha is the one who linked the call to Kate’s room she would have taken much of the blame at this end. One of your reader’s (KIM) comments that she “may have had some issues before” is appalling!

    I.W, London, United Kingdom

  4. Added 11:42 December 15, 2012

    I think the best solution is at the end of a "Prank" call disclose who you are... like they do in UAE radio stations, i have heard many shows in UAE radio station where at the end they revel themself and that it was a prank call...

    LESLEY, SHARJAH, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 11:37 December 15, 2012

    I completely agree with the writer of this article and Kim. As tragic as the nurse's suicide is, it could not in anyway be foreseen by the RJs. Condolences to the family of the deceased, but my heart also goes out to the australian presentors.

    Bush, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 11:33 December 15, 2012

    With all due respects to Mr. Mick's views on the incident, how any one can appreciate the job of these 2 DJ's. There is a limit to everything (even these limits are very well specified in sacred books of every religion) similarly, entertaining others without knowing the limits is fatal & dangerous. Especially, for the human being who is the victim of other's entertainment.

    Pikanshu, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  7. Added 11:12 December 15, 2012

    Mick has mentioned correctly that it was Frailty on the part of the nurse..that prompted her to make the choice of killing herself. However Mick is not so practical in absolving the DJs from the prank for entertainment. Seems like LIFE has now played a cruel prank on the DJ's - are they able to take this prank in stride and laugh at their own selves? Why should we be entertained by showing an opposite person in low light or laugh at seeing their self esteem being lowered? Life need not be taken so seriously. Life can only be enjoyed if we garner the ability and strength to laugh at our own selves. If we are prompted to laugh at others in the process of them being shown as weak -doesn't this reflect our own weakness?

    Anil, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 11:10 December 15, 2012

    its unfair to even suggest that the RJ's only did their job...after any 'prank' call, the RJ's have to identify themselves..you hear that on regular radio or watch it on tv (punkd, just for laughs etc.)...these guys didnt do that...they r to be blamed... the lady commiting suicide is also an extreme case of fragility and sensitivity..

    SK, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 10:50 December 15, 2012

    Many have not heard what conversation took place between the radio and the staff at private hospital. But many of us are aware and heard the radio jockeys atrocious prank call here in UAE. At times their prank put the listener in an awkward situation; one can well imagine what the person must go through at the receiving end. Nobody has the right to make someone laugh at ones cost. One has to be creative enough to create sensible humor on his own ability.

    clement Dmello, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 10:42 December 15, 2012

    I agree that such a prank is not a reason for suicide. The call may only have been a trigger for other underlying issues. People should foucs on the learning experience, rather than a blame game in order to handle situations in a better manner.

    Krishnan, Dxb, United Arab Emirates

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