Editorial: Sad, sorry situation made more tragic
The Australian DJs at the centre of an international controversy following the suicide of a British nurse on whom they played an on-air prank have lost their jobs.
The decision by their employer, Southern Cross Austereo (SCA), to axe their show, while clearly a PR exercise in damage control, only reinforces the harmful and simplistic suicide narrative that reached new heights of popularity after Jacinta Saldanha took her own life.
It seems it was easier for SCA to endorse the notion that DJs Michael Christian and Mel Greig were responsible for Saldanha's death than to risk commercial harm by challenging it.
A few weeks ago, in this editorial space, the Manawatu Standard argued that blaming the DJs for her death reduced suicide to a simple cause-and-effect equation that not only fails to reflect the complexity of the issue, it sends a dangerous message to vulnerable people.
We also said that it would be naive to assume that the embarrassment Saldanha understandably felt following the now-infamous prank was the sole reason she took her own life.
Since then, it has been reported that Saldanha had made two previous suicide attempts and had undergone treatment for depression. This underscores the complex reality of suicide: There is rarely a single, black and white reason behind the decision to take one's own life.
Happy, healthy people often struggle to comprehend how someone can take such a drastic step, which is perhaps why the public is often drawn to explanations that are easily understood. Maybe we feel less vulnerable ourselves if we can identify something or someone to blame.
Christian and Greig are responsible for the sense of shame that Saldanha no doubt felt following the prank, but they were not punished for that. They were punished because, unlike the hundreds of other radio pranks around the world that have also embarrassed people, this time the target committed suicide soon after. Taking them off the air is grossly unfair.
In an attempt to preserve its commercial reputation, SCA has ratified a myopic, misguided understanding of suicide. Worse still, the radio station has sent a message to vulnerable people that suicide is not only a reasonable response to a distressing event, but it can also be used as a weapon against people who might be held responsible for their deaths.
And that makes a sad and sorry situation only more tragic.