Radio pranksters 'shattered' by nurse's death

Last updated 22:05 10/12/2012

Two Australian radio announcers who made a prank call to a British hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife Kate speak of their distress at the death of the nurse who took their call.

'Anonymous' threatens attack on 2DayFM

Austereo tried to contact hospital

2DayFM radio presenters Michael Christian and Mel Greig
'GUTTED': 2DayFM radio presenters Michael Christian, left, and Mel Greig.

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Australian radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian have spoken of being "shattered, gutted, heartbroken" by the death of a nurse they spoke to during the royal prank phone call last week.

The 2Day FM presenters have faced global condemnation after the death of Jacintha Saldanha, who put through their prank call to the nurse on duty on the Duchess of Cambridge's ward.

Greig and Christian broke their silence on this afternoon in a pair of interviews on Australian television.

In an interview on A Current Affair, Christian defended the pair's role in the broadcasting of the prank call.

"It's not up to us to make that decision (broadcasting the call). It goes to other departments to make the call."
A teary Greig agreed, saying there was no way they could've predicted what happened.

"We don't get to make those decisions. Our job is to record and get the audio ... and act upon as we're told."

Greig told the show Today Tonight of the sorrow the pair are going through.
"If we played any involvement in her death then we're very sorry for that. And time will only tell."

"We couldn't foresee what was going to happen in the future."

Christian told A Current Affair the idea for the call came in a brainstorming meeting with the rest of the show's team.

"It was just the team sitting down before the show - just had the idea for just a simple harmless phone call," Christian said. "... when we thought about making a call, it was going to go for 30 seconds. We were going to be hung up on, and that was it."

Greig added: "We thought a hundred people before us would've tried it. We thought it was such a silly idea and the accents were terrible and not for a second did we expect to speak to Kate, let alone have a conversation with anyone at the hospital. We wanted to be hung up on."

Asked how they reacted when told of the death of Saldanha both DJs broke down in tears. Greig said it was "gut wrenching", the worst phone call of her life.

Christian agreed, saying: "Shattered, gutted, heartbroken and obviously you know... our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends".

Later in the interview, Christian was adamant the effect of the prank call could not have been foreseen.

"These 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 said.

Grimshaw told Fairfax Media this afternoon that the interview was "very intense" with a lot of people in the room, including radio station staff and supporters.

She felt sympathy for the pair.

"They’re at a certain point on the food chain. There are other people who made the decision to put it to air, it wasn’t live to air, there was a decision made after that prank call was recorded to put it to air, and virtually all the focus has been on them," Grimshaw said.

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"So I have some sympathy for them in that regard."

Grimshaw said she was mindful that anyone in their situation would be fragile and the interview was a chance for the hosts to say what they wanted to say.

"What has happened with this poor nurse in England is not going to be helped by bullying these two people into some sort of breakdown. I was very mindful that anyone in their situation would be fragile, and very mindful of not becoming part of the problem.

SHOW CANCELLED, PRANK CALLS SUSPENDED

Following the furore surrounding the radio station and it's hosts, Southern Cross Austereo, the owner of 2Day FM, has cancelled the Hot 30 show and issued a company-wide suspension of prank calls.

This follows the suspension of all advertising on 2Day FM that was announced at the weekend.  Greig and Christian, were already indefinitely suspended after their prank call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was a patient.

"SCA and the hosts of the radio program have also decided that they will not return to the airwaves until further notice," the company said in a statement.

‘A DEEPLY TRAGIC, UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCE’

The boss of 2Day FM said this morning that staff from the station had tried at least five times to contact those involved in the prank call.

The station, along with Christian and Greig, are under fire after Saldanha died in an apparent suicide after the call gained worldwide notoriety.

Saldanha put the call through to the London hospital ward of the recovering Duchess of Cambridge.

Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Austereo, reiterated that what had occurred was "a deeply tragic, unforseen circumstance" but that he was satisfied that the appropriate checks were conducted before the pre-recorded segment was broadcast.

"It is absolutely true to say that we actually did attempt to contact those people on multiple occasions. We rang them up to discuss what we had recorded. We attempted to contact them on no less than five occasions. We did want to speak to them about it," he told Melbourne radio station 3AW.

Later, he said: "The day prior [to Saldahna’s death], people took it as a harmless prank in good humour."

All Austereo staff were called to a meeting this morning; employees have been gagged from speaking publicly without permission.

 Holleran’s comments come as online vigilante group Anonymous is believed to have threatened the broadcaster in light of Saldanha’s death.

Using a new account on YouTube with the group’s branding, a person wearing a mask similar to that used by Anonymous members said 2Day FM was "directly responsible" for  Saldanha’s death.

The video, uploaded from an account named An-onym Oz, purports to be from Anonymous but contains a spelling error in its opening titles. ‘‘Hello citizens of the world, we are Anonyomous,’’ it reads.

"We have listened to your excuses. We have heard the word ’prank’ a million times," the person in the video says, in a digitally altered voice.

"We have studied the facts and found you guilty of murder. You have placed yourself in an untenable position. You have placed your advertisers at risk - their databases, their websites, their online advertising.

"We are Anonymous and hereby demand you terminate the contracts of Mel Greig and Michael Christian. We will not listen to any more excuses. We will not let you escape your responsibility. You have a funeral to pay for. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We are amongst you. Expect us. This is not a prank call; this is no laughing matter. This is your one and only chance to make amends. You have one week to do so."

In Australia, New South Wales police are now helping Scotland Yard with its investigation into Saldanha’s death.

Holleran said on Monday that he had not spoken to police "at this point in time".

He said he did not believe any Australian Communications and Media Authority codes governing radio broadcasts had been breached or that the station’s licence was in jeopardy.

He said the company was happy to discuss the issue with any investigators.

He would not comment on how much the fallout was costing the station financially and rejected suggestions of cultural problems at the station in light of repeated scandals, largely ignited by host Kyle Sandilands.

FAMILY GRIEVES

Arrangements are being made to return Saldanha's body to India. Saldanha, who grew up in Goa, on India's west coast, married Benedict Barboza in 1993. They had lived in Britain for nearly a decade, after living in Oman.

Barboza wrote about his devastation in a post on his Facebook account. ''I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances,'' he wrote.

Her mother-in-law, Carmine Barboza, said Saldanha had not mentioned the prank, or its aftermath, to her family in India.

"Everything seemed normal," she said. "But then we got a call last night from Benedict informing us that Jacintha had died. He was crying and couldn't speak much.''

Friends in her home town told reporters Saldanha was a caring woman who always put the needs of others first.

"She'd make sure others were comfortable or had eaten their food before looking into her own needs," a neighbour, Albert Fernandes, said.

Mental health groups said it was important to reach out to people who were depressed or distressed because the tragedy might stir suicidal feelings.

A spokesman for Lifeline Australia, John Mendel, said managers taking calls in recent days had heard from several people talking about the incident in the context of their own struggles.

''This can have an impact on other people in society, including people who have been bullied ... It can bring these thoughts to the surface again,'' Mandel said. 

WHERE TO GET HELP IF YOU ARE DEPRESSED:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Samaritans: 0800 726 666

In an emergency, dial 111.

- Sydney Morning Herald with AAP

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