Royal prank call: DJs want to talk

BEN BUTLER, HARRIET ALEXANDER, JULIA MEDEW
Last updated 10:27 10/12/2012

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The DJs at the centre of the notorious royal prank phone call want to talk about it, says a spokeswoman for the radio station's company.

Radio duo Mel Greig and Michael Christian have been confronted with a barrage of abusive and threatening messages via social media following the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, 46.

Saldanha was found dead after being duped into forwarding a phone call from the 2Day FM presenters - pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles - through to the London hospital ward of the recovering pregnant wife of Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The DJs "have expressed a desire to speak,'' the spokeswoman said.

''We haven't ascertained when they're ready for that and how we're going to organise that, but they certainly want to."

The station management refused to confirm whether the broadcasters would keep their jobs but said advertising would remain suspended until at least Wednesday while the board considered its position.

'IMMEDIATE ACTION' ASSURED

Meanwhile, the chairman of 2Day FM's parent company has written to the hospital to reassure them that ''immediate action'' would be taken over the incident.

Following a crisis meeting on Sunday night, the station made public a letter Southern Cross Austereo chairman Max Moore-Wilton had written to the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, Lord Glenarthur.

Lord Glenarthur had earlier written to the station denouncing the stunt as "truly appalling".

Moore-Wilton responded in his letter that the station was ''taking immediate action and reviewing the broadcast and processes involved''.

''It is too early to know the full details leading to this tragic event and we are anxious to review the results of an investigation that may be made available to us or made public.''

''We can assure you that we will be fully cooperative with all investigations.''

''We are all saddened by the events of the last few days. They are truly tragic.''

Austereo suspended all advertising on 2Day FM on Saturday in response to an advertiser boycott after the suspected suicide of Saldanha.

Ad sales revenue was already under pressure, slumping 10 per cent in the three months to the end of September.

The crisis meeting took place after Lord Glenarthur had written to Moore-Wilton, deploring the hoax call, which sought information about the condition of Kate Middleton.

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LONDON POLICE IN CONTACT

New South Wales police said London police had contacted them about the call, and they had agreed to help with their investigation of the death. http://adsfac.net/trk.asp?cc=WVN013.185920.0&creativeID=279631&ord=7768259

By Sunday night, the network was fielding hundreds of objections, ranging from ''you've got blood on your hands'' abuse to questions about prank calls.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority confirmed the volume of complaints matched the outcry over Alan Jones saying the Prime Minister's father had died of shame and Kyle Sandilands's description of a female journalist as a ''fat slag''.

A spokeswoman for Austereo, Sandy Kaye, said Christian and Greig had been suspended indefinitely and were receiving intensive counselling.

''The backlash is just ferocious,'' she said. ''Australia seems to be much more balanced. In the UK it's like they're on a witch-hunt. It's intense and what's incredible to me is it's so much easier for the British media to have us as the target. They haven't once looked at the hospital.''

Lord Glenarthur urged Moore-Wilton to take steps to ensure that the ''truly appalling'' broadcast of the hoax call ''could never be repeated''.

Moore-Wilton had said he would respond to the letter after discussions with the board.

A former senior public servant, Moore-Wilton has been the chairman of Southern Cross Austereo, for which he is paid A$250,000 (NZ$315,450) a year, since 2007.

In that time, Austereo has been beset by on-air scandals, including multiple episodes involving Sandilands.

''We have taken action previously but, as I say, the chief executive officer is responsible for the operations of the organisation within the framework that the board broadly sets,'' Moore-Wilton said. ''This is one part of our business ... It's one station in 80.''

'SUCH AN AWFUL THING'

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said he felt "sick" on Saturday when he heard the news of the death of the nurse at the centre of the hoax call.

"I also thought 'I wonder if there's more to this.' It felt a very extreme reaction but who knows and you feel enormously for that family, its such an awful thing."

He said radio stations should "have a think" about what they're doing but was not sure legislation would fix anything.

 "Radio stations have been doing this for decades, so it's a very extreme reaction. Maybe we can go away and have a look at it."

He had also been the subject of prank calls, Key said.

"Radio stations ring me up, say they're different people, and I don't know I'm on air sometimes. It happens."

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.

- Fairfax Media

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