A tragedy, but who is at fault?

PETER FITZSIMONS
Last updated 12:16 09/12/2012

Londoners express sadness at the suspected suicide of a nurse who answered a prank call from an Australian radio station about pregnant British royal Kate. Simon Hanna reports.

Jacintha Saldanha
Reuters
TRAGIC END: Nurse Jacintha Saldanha was at the victim of a prank call from two Australian radio hosts.

Nurse's sister-in-law: "I will really miss her a lot"

Pair off air

Global backlash over royal prank

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OPINION: It is a tragedy of unspeakable proportions that the nurse who put the prank call through to Princess Kate's ward should have taken her life. Just as it is an enormous tragedy when anyone takes their life.

But to all those - particularly the British media - who are firing vicious epithets at the two radio DJs who are the public face of that prank call, blaming them for the tragedy, please get a grip.

What, precisely, are they guilty of?

Making a prank call? Which DJ in the history of the world hasn't made prank calls? It is part of the genre, a practice beloved through the generations and around the world, including all over Britain.

Was there malice in this call, then? Please point it out. Please show us a shred of evidence that anywhere in the process of putting the call through, there might have been a mite of malice that it would genuinely hurt someone?

Perhaps then, they were guilty of criminal negligence, or even mere negligence.

Really? The test of negligence, as I remember from my garden-variety legal studies, was whether or not a ''reasonable man'' might have had any expectation that their actions would have resulted in the kind of tragedy we have seen.

I invite you to be the judge. Who could possibly have thought that a silly prank call like that - one of thousands of prank calls, no doubt, made by radio stations around the world on that day - would have led to the young woman taking her life? Can anyone point to a precedent where such an innocent call has resulted in such shocking consequences? I can't.

And for those who still make the case that the radio pair are guilty of a terrible crime, I point to the cheery reaction of Prince Charles himself, shortly after he was apprised of the call. Did he not, quite appropriately, have a little fun with it, on Thursday, when he asked the waiting media: ''How do you know I'm not a radio station?'' Mirth all around, led by the journalists.

For Charles appreciated the bleeding obvious. The call was simply irreverent. Not malicious. Not negligent. And certainly not criminally negligent.

While most of the rest of the media was outdoing itself with gushing about the impending royal birth, this radio station was simply, to use the colloquial expression, ''taking the piss''. That is part of the defining characteristics of successful radio DJs, and it certainly defines huge swathes of the Australian population when it comes to how to deal with English aristocracy. It has been ever thus.

I repeat: it is a shocking tragedy this young woman has taken her life. But is the real culprit a couple of DJs making a prank call?

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Or does the fault lie somewhere in an English culture of such overblown hyperbole when it comes to anything to do with the royals that a young nurse could really think her life was no longer worth living because she had put a call through to a royal ward? You must know the answer.

I rest my case, while still offering my deepest sympathies to the family of the young woman.

-Sydney Morning Herald

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