A joke too far

Everyone who has been following the tragic story of the prank call by two Aussie DJs to the King Edward VII hospital, and the subsequent death of the nurse who took the call, must begin by expressing their heartfelt sympathy to the family of Jacintha Saldanha, who was found dead earlier today.

Particularly to her two children who have been left without a mother.

The radio station 2Day FM's parent company, Southern Cross (SCA), has issued a statement said it is "deeply saddened by the tragic news".

The statement described the DJs who made the call as "deeply shocked" and added that "they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy."

Taking these two people off the air is certainly appropriate but they should not be scapegoats because they are not the only people at SCA who have questions to answer.

This prank was not broadcast live: it had been pre-recorded and had apparently been cleared by SCA's lawyers prior to transmission.

If that is true, what on earth were those lawyers thinking?

Actions have consequences and people should take responsibility for the likely and foreseeable consequences of their actions.

I cannot blame people at SCA for failing to foresee the possibility that their broadcast might result in a fatality. But it was always likely that if the call successfully fooled those on the receiving end it would result in extreme embarrassment, distress, and quite possibly serious career damage to those individuals.

Don't forget that it was 5.30 am UK time when the call was made. Without knowing the exact shift pattern at King Edward VII hospital it is not possible to say how long the nurses who took the call had been on duty but an awful lot of people are not at their best at that time in the morning - and nurse training is more focussed on caring for patients than spotting tricks from journalists.

Doubtless there may be some adjustment to that following this incident, not least because although this call was from journos looking for a cheap laugh, the next hoax call might be from Al Qaeda operatives looking for information to set up some ghastly atrocity.

There may be people who are inclined to use that fact - that security needed to be stricter - as an argument in defence of the journalists who made the prank call and those at SCA who approved the broadcast.

Anyone who is tempted to use that argument should do two things.

First, they should think about the two children who have lost their mother. And then they should ask themselves whether broadcasting the hoax call was the best way to make the point that hospitals treating patients who could be terrorist targets need to be aware of their telephone security.


Anonymous said…
It was a stupid prank call. No more than that. You're right procedures and security should have been in place to protect the patients and staff from this kind of prank.

You'll be telling us next that it's worse than the Ross-Brand phone call. It isn't. It's just a prank gone bad.
Chris Whiteside said…
I don't think it adds too much to the discussion to argue about whether this hoax call was better or worse than the childish prank by Ross and Brand which was dire in a different way.

It would certainly appear, however, that the consequences have been worse.

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