The central point in the royal prank saga caused by two vacuous little Sydney radio presenters is clear. Perhaps that’s why it has been almost universally ignored. It is that the two initiators had no thought other than for their own promotion in perpetrating a hoax on the other side of the world.
It is for that lapse of judgement that the two radio presenters should be sanctioned. They would have had no idea that their stupidity would lead – or so it would clearly seem – to the suicide of the British nurse they duped into believing they were the Queen and Prince Charles. But that’s the problem: they had no idea. They are selfish denizens, apparently, of the sickeningly smelly depths of pop radio.
According to Michael Mullins, editor of the Eureka Street on-line newspaper, we are all to blame for the tragedy. Well no, Michael, we’re not. Modern mass media might be a pot of steaming pap, in which news has been subsumed into something misguidedly called entertainment and comment ceded to barely sentient shock-jocks, but there’s something called individual responsibility. It still exists. It is still exercised by many people; hopefully by most people.
Unfortunately it appears to be concept totally absent in what passes for the minds of presenters Mel Grieg and Michael Christian, of the disgraceful Sydney radio station 2DAY FM. They were described a couple of days ago as feeling “fragile” following their indiscretion and its horrific outcome. One would hope so. A 46-year-old mother of two, British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, was feeling dead about it.
Mullins, in a piece in Eureka Street today, asserts that the hospital – King Edward VII in London, which treats military and VIP patients – is to blame for not ensuring its nurses are equipped to handle the media. He has the kernel of a point there: nurses everywhere should be trained to tell the media to bugger off and call the hospital’s press office.
But the now dead Saldanha, whose co-opted role in the scheme to promote Greig and Christian was to put their call through to the room in which Prince William’s wife was apparently suffering morning sickness, didn’t believe she was talking to the media. Why she thought the Queen and Prince Charles would personally call the hospital at 5am is another matter. But it not germane; the point is that she was duped by two little idiots who (if judged suitable to be employed at all) should have had more sense than to try a prank like that.
It is churlish to cavil at the social media – which Mullins does, making the point that in the past the professional media generally had time to abort brainless ideas before giving birth to them (we should ask Rupert Murdoch what he thinks about that) – on the grounds that some comment on this case has been over the top. We live in an age where technology makes instant reaction in social media the norm, not the exception: that’s something else idiots with access to microphones should consider.
Jeff Kennett of Beyond Blue, the Australian organisation that seeks to fight depression and suicide, says we should understand how the two Sydney radio “stars” would now be feeling. Most people would, and would sympathise at the human level with their distress.
But that doesn’t mean excusing it, or suggesting that it was just a prank that went horribly wrong. It was not a “prank”. It was rank idiocy. That’s the perpetrators’ cross, and they have to bear it.