Prank call will blight radio DJs' careers

20:52, Dec 09 2012

I confess to having a trannie, as in radio, next to the bed. Rather than switch on the squint-making light to find out the time, I tune into the wireless to discover the hour.

For the past few years I've been in the habit of waking at four in the morning to cop the interminable long range forecast on Radio New Zealand National and wonder where or what Puysegur was and is.

If you're interested Puysegur is a 6300-metre trench in the south Tasman Sea formed by the Indo-Australian plate, and by the time radio announcer, Lloyd Scott, in his long-winded inimitable style gets to Puysegur, I am usually well on the way back to the elusive land of Nod.

I did this on Saturday morning and woke up again a while later, horrified to hear the early morning news and learn that the British nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who worked at London's King Edward VII Hospital and had taken the infamous hoax call made by two Australian DJs pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, had been found dead and there were no suspicious circumstances.

"That's awful, awful, awful," I groaned, rolling out of bed to switch on the television and see how the BBC were reporting it, as they waited for Australia to wake up and give a reaction.

Throughout the day I kept encountering the same conversation from outraged people fuming and blaming "the media" for the nurse's death.


Sorry, I said, but DJs, shock jocks and hosts of radio stations are not "the media". If they were, in line with the journalistic code of ethics (yes, there is one), they would have to identify themselves, provide their name and organisation, and state, if it wasn't obvious, that the phone conversation was being taped.

None of that happened as the DJs, as they are in the habit of doing, were staging a childish prank, and listening to that prank, appeared to be stunned that their appalling accents had got them through to the duchess' ward where they were given private information about her by another nurse.

Listening to the tape it sounded as if English was not the first language of Saldanha, which was maybe the reason why she was so taken in by the ruse, and so ashamed of being derelict in her goal-keeping duty that she, apparently, took the extreme measure of taking her own life.

What she was doing answering a phone that should have been answered by the switchboard is another question, but I suspect, like most work places these days, workers are mucking in and doing more than they signed on for.

Having a royal at the hospital meant, one would expect, in an era hidebound and rampant with public relations, that it was incumbent on both the hospital and the firm (royalty) to have a system in place so that an incident like this didn't happen.

The only crime the nurse seemed to have been guilty of was trying to be helpful, and according to the hospital and the royals, she was not castigated for her mistake.

Was I the only one who was worrying about the DJs and hoping that a suicidal chain reaction wasn't going to take place from that quarter, as the lynch mob climbed online and tore them to shreds?

For those who bear them ill will, this is a large blight on their careers and will cast a long shadow on their lives, which is a punishment that doesn't really fit the crime.

One news bulletin even tried to rope poor old Prince Charles into the narrative, repeating a conversation he'd had with media about his delight at being a grandfather in his dotage, and joking, added a codicil that he was the real deal rather than an imposter.

The whole thing kept getting more and more hallucinatory as the airwaves trilled with venom, the blame game well and truly in play.

And what is Kate to make of all this? There she is, the beatific expectant mother, apart from terrible morning sickness, the veritable picture of happiness providing a good news story for the tragic royals, not to mention a sad world when suddenly all this wretched noise is circulating and spiralling out of control around her, which has absolutely nothing to do with her.

The young duchess has well and truly learnt in a very harsh way what it is to be a royal and the terrible price to pay that comes with the job.

It's all so unnecessary, so deeply unfair, but the incident and its reaction will eventually wear itself out - hopefully.

The Press