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A Sad Lesson for Radio Pranksters

“This is by far the best prank I’ve ever been involved in. It seemed so far-fetched but it really worked!”  2DayFM radio presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian.

Wrong, Mel and Mike  – it wasn’t an idea that commercial radio, anywhere, can be proud of.  I’ve spent my grown-up life in commercial radio in the UK and I’m ashamed of you both. It was a thoughtless, selfish, ill-considered and, worst of all, dreary idea from small city people. If you can’t see it, go back to you little radio station in Woggawogga and think.

Mel and Mike ‘pranked’ a nurse  at the King Edward VII hospital in London by pretending to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales asking about the condition of the Duchess of Cambridge. Their victim, nurse Jacintha Saldanha, killed herself because, it’s said, she was traumatised by it all.  Jacintha was described by hospital colleagues as modest, quiet, polite, and kind. No surprise then that she was so ashamed of her mistake and embarrassed by the resulting media hubris, that she ended her own life, leaving a husband and two kids to grieve.

Jacintha came from southern India, not the kind of place where cynical media stunts are common. Her English was good but not at a level to identify accents. To a radio presenter who was keen to make a name for himself like Michael Christian,  Jacintha was perfect ‘prank’ fodder.  Loads of  presenters on ‘popular’ radio forget that not all people live in their gobby, celeb-struck, famous for 15 seconds culture.  Some people – like Jacintha – are gentle, naive and vulnerable.

So where do we go from here? Here are some thoughts.

  • 2DayFM, despite the limp and lame explanations of its executives, should contribute a very large sum of money – nothing short of a million pounds sterling – to a trust for Jacintha Saldanha’s two young children.
  • The station’s parent company must be fined a sum large enough to make its eyes water – no mitigations – or face the termination of its broadcast license.
  • The executives who manage the station, day to day, and who run the company which owns the station should resign.
  • The two presenters that were involved ought to be fired but I don’t suppose they will be.
  • 2DayFM needs to train its staff to understand what they’ve contributed to; to see the ‘bigger picture’ and to understand that their jobs are  privileges.
  • The station and the local regulator need to put rules in place to prevent all radio stations from taking advantage of ‘prank’ victims without gaining their approval to broadcast.

And how are things in UK radio-land? Better than Oz but increasingly frail. Why?  Because of the well-known disinterest in radio at the regulator, Ofcom, and the number of people running radio stations without any editorial experience whatsover. It is generally accepted in the UK, however, that radio interviews that have been obtained without the knowledge of interviewee should not be broadcast without the prior approval of the interviewee, except in certain limited circumstances. Good rule if we’re to avoid public humiliation and, tragically, death.

In a daily battle for audiences and revenue, the bigger picture can fall out of the window easily. The Jacintha tragedy could happen here? Let me know what you think.

By Rory McLeod, Director, NBS

 

 

 

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