WHILE the family of a British nurse come to grips with her suspected suicide, tens of thousands of people around the world have taken to social media to argue who is to blame, and a radio station has suspended all advertising, fearing a consumer backlash.
Two Australian radio presenters - who played a prank on the royal family that caused a wave of titillation, then rebuke around the world - are now being targeted in a massive and emotional hate campaign. Mental health professionals have raised concerns about the duo's psychological wellbeing.
Global backlash over royal prank
There are growing calls from around the world to sack Australia's 2DAY FM radio presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, after the nurse who handled their prank call was found dead on Friday. Lifeline: 13 11 14.
Meanwhile, Facebook pages - including spontaneous tribute pages that have posted photos wrongfully purporting to be those of the dead woman - are ablaze with loathing, grief and calls for calm and reason. Scotland Yard has told New South Wales Police it may seek to interview the pair.
A few days ago the world's media was laughing and tut-tutting over the prank played by 2Day FM's Mel Greig and Michael Christian. The duo called the King Edward VII Hospital, where Catherine, the pregnant wife of Prince William, had been hospitalised for three nights with severe morning sickness. They put on toffy voices, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Philip.
A nurse shared confidential information with the pranksters, including the fact that Catherine was no longer retching. Prince Charles reportedly joked about the prank - but now the laughter has evaporated.
The nurse at the centre of the prank was Jacintha Saldanha, a 46-year-old mother of two. She was found on Friday morning (UK time) lying unconscious at an address near the hospital.
Since then Greig and Christian have been stood down and are reportedly ''shattered''. They have deleted their Twitter accounts.
In the early hours of Saturday morning British media outlets dispatched crews to Sydney to track down the pair.
Within hours, advertisers started pulling out, until 2Day FM announced it was suspending all advertising. One sponsor, Coles, went so far as to say that the suicide and outrage ''appear to be tragic consequences'' of the prank.
2Day FM's Facebook page was flooded with a reported 11,000 comments flavoured with bloodlust and outrage.
Austereo responds to prank-turned-tragedy
The CEO of radio network Austereo says "nobody could have reasonably foreseen" that a prank their station pulled on a nurse at the Duchess Catherine's hospital, could have resulted in her suicide. Lifeline: 13 11 14
Southern Cross Austereo spokeswoman Sandy Kaye said Christian and Greig were being counselled by a psychologist.
Ms Kaye said that CEO Rhys Holleran's remorse at a press conference on Saturday afternoon ''was no performance, it was no ruse … he and the rest of the team are shattered''.
She said the presenters were ''being babysat'' by other Austereo staff in order to be ''kept from seeing the media coverage as much as possible''.
Austereo denies any wrongdoing, but is under pressure because the prank did not follow the usual ethical protocol of disclosure and seeking permission from the interviewee. Pressed on the matter, Mr Holleran said: ''I think the more important point is that we're very confident we haven't done anything illegal.''
Activist group change.org has established an online petition calling for the DJs to be sacked. Ross Noble, who organised the petition, on Saturday posted: ''2Day FM are deleting Facebook comments against them fast and furious … They have no intention of taking responsibility for their actions … yet.''
A typical comment at change.org was from Chloe Holloway in the UK: ''They do not deserve to have well-paid jobs. This poor, hard-working nurse took her own life for their cheap kicks … I can also imagine that Kate is feeling distressed by all of this. What sick bastards play a prank on any ill pregnant woman anyway?''
Neither police nor the hospital have publicly blamed the radio station for Ms Saldanha's death. The hospital issued a statement it had been supporting her through the global reaction to the prank, but already questions are being asked as to what scrutiny or discipline the nurse had faced.
The tragedy was the major story in most UK weekend newspapers, which highlighted 2Day FM's claim that it had not broken any laws.
The Times said the incident placed the royal couple at the centre of a personal tragedy at what should be a time of great joy, while The Independent argued the incident should not be used to denounce the media as a whole.
Social researcher David Chalke said the international reaction was ''the dark side of social media, where the Arab Spring was the positive side. This is either the ultimate form of democracy or mob rule. Take your pick.''
With MICHAEL LALLO
■For help or information, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au