Friday’s post here, A terrible year for journalism is ending badly, was written some eight hours before news broke that Nurse Jacintha Saldanha had taken her life after being humiliated by two presenters from the Australian radio station 2DayFM following a so-called prank call. Her death is an appalling tragedy and it emphasizes the point we were making that segments of the media industry have abandoned the value formerly known as “decency”.
The 2DayFM website now carries this message: “Southern Cross Austereo are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII’s Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world.”
The term “this situation” must be one of the most disingenuous formulations for malfeasance and cruelty ever created. Pouring oil on the fire, Rhys Holleran, the CEO of the company that owns 2DayFM, claimed that the station attempted to contact the King Edward VII Hospital after recording the call. In an interview with Melbourne radio station 3AW, Holleran said: “We rang them up to discuss what we had recorded. Absolutely. We attempted to contact them on five occasions… because we wanted to speak to them about it,” he said.
And then they went ahead and broadcast the recorded conversation.
In Rhys Holleran’s perverse media business one can imagine staff brainstorming the idea of calling the London hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was seriously unwell and pretending to be members of the Royal Family. The 2Day FM presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, ring up, and get through to Nurse Jacintha Saldanha. Duped, she passes the call on to the duty nurse on the Duchess of Cambridge’s ward, thinking she has done the right thing. The2Day FM team is given personal and intimate information about the patient and, with management approval, decides to air the call. The phone call is broadcast, Mel Greig and Michael Christian congratulate each other as to how clever and funny they are, and media around the world applaud them for their audacity. Compounding the offence, the two presenters made fun of it all on social media networks, and laud their expertise in being able to hoax Jacintha Saldanha.
During any of these stages, a moral and decent management could have and should have pulled the plug on the plan. But the hoax was perpetrated to increase ratings for the station, enhance the profile of the two presenters and sell the call to other media outlets. The result was “this situation”, a callous euphemism for death. Today, we learn that Mel Greig and Michael Christian are now weeping crocodile tears for themselves. No doubt, they’ll get lots of compassion from those who believe that media intrusions into private lives have no consequences.