Editorial: Who is to blame for nurse's death?

22:00, Dec 09 2012
COURT JESTERS: DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian.
FRAGILE: DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian.

Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, snicker, snicker. Didja see that, what a hoot - don't know how they get away with it.

We've all done it - enjoyed a laugh at some else's expense, even when we knew what we were snickering at wasn't very nice. And now the latest bit of what was meant to be funny foolishness has backfired.

Two Australian radio presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, got through to the London hospital ward of the recovering Duchess of Cambridge. And the British nurse who was duped into taking their call, Jacintha Saldanha, has taken her own life. Suddenly, it's not funny any more.

But before we join the firestorm of condemnation raining down on the hapless DJs, let's take a deep breath and consider a few things. Firstly, there is no proof, as yet, that Ms Saldanha's action is a direct result of the prank call. In fact a leading psychiatrist, Patrick McGorry, has called for calm, saying suicide was unlikely to be caused by one individual factor.

"I feel sorry for them (Greig and Christian) because they obviously had no intention of causing any harm. Blame is hardly ever useful," he is quoted as saying.

Then there is the question of what exactly the pair are guilty of. Making a prank call? Prank calls are a practice beloved through the generations and around the world, including New Zealand and Britain. It was probably one of thousands of prank calls made by radio stations that day, and laughed at by thousands of listeners. Let's be honest here: The only reason the radio stations indulge in this somewhat silly behaviour is because they know the listeners like it. We can only hope that those who laughed are not the same people who are now heaping condemnation on Greig and Christian.

And for those who still make the case that the radio pair are guilty of a terrible crime, consider the cheery reaction of Prince Charles himself shortly after he was told about the prank call last week. He asked the waiting media: "How do you know I'm not a radio station?" Chuckles all round. The prince is going to find it hard to have something serious to say in the wake of that flippant comment.

Yes, it is a tragedy that a woman has taken her life. And we can't be sure that her action is a direct result of the prank. But the fact remains that as long as a sizeable section of society is prepared to laugh at these pranks, they are likely to continue. And we have to ask who, then, really is to blame.


The Marlborough Express