Once again, Sydney radio station 2Day FM has breached the limits of decency and good taste; its latest stunt — a call from “the Queen” to speak to the Duchess of Cambridge in hospital — appears to have led to the suicide of a British nurse. It is time for 2Day FM to clean up its act.
In the wake of the now-notorious prank phone call by 2Day FM presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the suicide of one of the nurses they spoke to is a tragedy, and I want to begin by adding my voice to so many others who have expressed sympathy and condolence of the deceased, 46 year old mother of two Jacintha Saldanha.
That said, 2Day FM is a serial miscreant when it comes to outrages against decency, good taste and acceptable standards of behaviour, and I think the time has come when something needs to be done about its apparently amoral and narcissistic social view, its rank disregard for the consideration of anyone who crosses its path, and the vexed question of the taste and decency (or lack thereof) of the on-air stunts it perpetrates.
Something I would like to address at the outset — given most readers of this column will know I have traditionally been vociferous in my defence of the freedom of the press — is to make clear, very plainly, that 2Day FM, Greig, Christian, and their colleagues are not “the press;” they are part of what I would term the entertainment media.
And therein lies the difference.
This really is a tragic episode; a mother of two children — by all accounts an outstanding nurse, and the primary breadwinner for her family — has seemingly committed suicide in response to her role in the 2Day FM stunt and in the face of a furious public and media backlash in the UK.
It is unclear whether she had any pre-existing mental health issues that may have been triggered, although one report in the UK today did describe her as “a nervous person.” Even so, whether she had any issues or not, it is unforgivable that her state of mind should be tested so publicly in the teeth of public opinion as it has been.
Much has been made by 2Day FM (and by the CEO of parent company Southern Cross Austereo, Rhys Holleran) of the fact the stunt had been prerecorded and vetted by lawyers prior to broadcast.
But did 2Day FM break the law?
For one thing, recording anything without consent poses legal difficulties; it’s a certainty that if the staff at the King Edward VII Hospital had been let in on the gag the entire stunt would have gone nowhere.
Certainly, the dead nurse, if the suicide did relate to the stunt, may well be alive today.
For another thing, however, there are questions around concepts such as fraud, impersonating public officials, obtaining confidential and privileged information by deception and so forth that might not sit so well at the Old Bailey.
But whether the answers to those do or not, there is another, overriding, question: what about some good old-fashioned brains and common sense on the part of 2Day FM and its presenters?
Holleran was quoted in The Age this afternoon as saying that “nobody could have reasonably foreseen” that the prank call might have resulted in a suicide.
But Holleran is wrong, and that’s the point: anyone with a brain at 2Day FM could have reasonably foreseen that its “pranks” over many years were likely to eventually result in adverse consequences; it was, literally, only a matter of time.
Admittedly, 2Day FM’s rap sheet is disproportionately skewed toward the antics of another of its so-called entertainment personalities, Kyle Sandilands, whose dubious achievements include disclosing the rape of a 14 year old girl in a live broadcast, and savaging a journalist as “a fat slag,” “a fat bitter thing,” “a piece of shit,” and a “little troll.”
For good measure, Sandilands’ attack on Ali Stephenson — a Murdoch journalist whose crime was to write an unfavourable review of a TV show Sandilands presented — came with a warning: “Watch your mouth or I’ll hunt you down.”
Yet here we are again; same station, different personnel, ominously familiar story.
No accountability, no standards of any principle, and no consequences — until now.
What would SCA’s response have been if the 14 year old girl, or Stephenson, or any of the long line of other figures its presenters have vilified, defamed, victimised, harassed, or otherwise taken aim at killed themselves? I wonder.
As it is, Sandilands survives on air to this day; it is heartening that Greig and Christian have been suspended, but I would be happier if “suspended” was, in fact, “terminated.”
The chairman of depression support organisation Beyond Blue, former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett, has expressed concern for the presenters, saying Australians should support rather than crucify the pair for “a prank made in good faith.”
I certainly think Greig and Christian warrant support to ensure their own welfare, but I would also point out that they are not the victims of this incident: they are its perpetrators.
At the very minimum, they deserve to lose their jobs.
And the flood of advertising revenue now being haemorrhaged by 2Day FM — yet again — clearly illustrates that the station’s commercial partners are far better attuned to community standards than the station itself.
It has been widely reported — and not least by the hospital’s management — that the royal family have not made a complaint about the conduct of the two nurses drawn into the 2Day FM stunt, but let’s be honest: in short, they can’t.
Prince William, privately, is said to be livid to the point of seething over what he perceives to be yet another media incursion into his privacy and that of his family; given the fate of his mother, William is perhaps better positioned than most to hold such a view.
His father, Prince Charles, responded brilliantly when asked for a reaction by journalists, laughing the incident off and shutting the question down.
And Palace officials quoted in London newspaper the Daily Mirror said William and Kate were angry at the intrusion and at a loss as to why anyone would find picking on a sick pregnant woman funny.
(Frankly — as an aside — I would note for the record that the call wasn’t even remotely funny; bad accents, poor scripting, incredible presentation and ridiculous dialogue all conspire to a radio segment based on sheer slapstick stupidity, questions of moral judgement notwithstanding).
But can the royals complain publicly? Not without being portrayed as carping whingers leeching off the public purse they can’t, and so their actual reactions must remain private.
Let’s get this into perspective: all of this has happened because Kate Middleton, pregnant, required hospital treatment for a rare but extreme complication of her pregnancy. Viewed from that perspective, the rest of what has been played out in the media this week was utterly, utterly unnecessary.
And sadly, it has cost a good woman her life.
I’m furious that — yet again — 2Day FM has behaved like a law unto itself, this time with fatal consequences, despite ample precedents signalling the need for something to be done about what passes as “entertainment” at the station and is broadcast to millions of listeners.
Its toxic culture and so-called “entertainment” values consistently and increasingly defy what any objective analysis would deem reasonable.
On this occasion, it has played the leading role in turning what should be a cause for international celebration — the pregnancy of the Duchess of Cambridge — into a travesty attracting worldwide rancour that will instead place a stain on that event in history.
And whilst it is certainly true that 2Day FM’s presenters will have to live with the events of the past few days for the rest of their lives, it’s is also fair to assert that had anyone at 2Day FM involved in this exercise — anyone — applied appropriate forethought and analysis to the proposed stunt, it would never have proceeded.
It is to be hoped the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) falls on 2Day FM like the proverbial ton of bricks.