'Radio hosts deserve our support'
There was nothing wrong with Mel Grieg and Michael Christian's 2DayFM prank and the radio hosts should be given support, says Chairman of beyondblue, Jeff Kennett. Lifeline: 13 11 14.PT2M29S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2b2nf 620 349 December 8, 2012
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Even after Jacintha Saldanha's death had been confirmed by the King Edward VII Hospital, her voice could still be heard playing over the airwaves of 2Day FM, which had spent all week capitalising on the hoax which now appears to have driven her to suicide.
Hoax call ... 2Day FM presenters Mel Greig, left, and Michael Christian.
While Britain and much of the world was learning details of the mother-of-two's death, the Sydney-based radio station, seemingly unmanned, was repeatedly broadcasting the moment Mrs Saldanha was fooled into thinking two DJs were the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
Despite half-hearted apologies from both 2Day FM and the presenters earlier in the week, the independent station could not resist the opportunity to milk its notoriety.
As late as 5pm UK time Friday (4am Saturday AEDT), more than seven hours after Mrs Saldanha's death, 2Day FM's website was still plugging its royal scoop, which one of the presenters insisted was just a "big fat joke".
Incredible as it may now seem, the prank call, which was made at 5.30am English time on Tuesday (4.30pm Tuesday AEDT), was prerecorded and had been cleared for transmission by the radio station's lawyers.
The idea for the call came from Michael Christian, a presenter of the Summer 30 music show, who was barely known in Australia, let alone the rest of the world, having only started the job the day before.
His original idea was to try to speak to the Duchess of Cambridge herself, despite the fact that she was in hospital suffering from severe pregnancy sickness. He told listeners: "We've been handed a phone number and we have been told that this phone number is the hospital where Kate Middleton is currently staying.
"We thought we'd give it a call. We don't want to cause any trouble, we don't want to stress her out because she is doing it tough. But I reckon we could maybe get her on the radio tonight."
He told his co-presenter, Mel Greig, that she would have to pretend to be the Queen and he would be the Prince of Wales. "This is awesome!" Greig replied.
Christian said: "Let's give this hospital a call and see if we can get Kate Middleton or maybe even Prince Wills on the phone tonight. So the number is going in? ... oh Jeez, I hope this happens!"
Mrs Saldanha, a nurse who had worked at the hospital for more than four years, was at reception when the call came through. Greig, doing a poor impression of the Queen, said: "Oh hello there, could I please speak to Kate please, my granddaughter [sic]?"
Mrs Saldanha replied: "Oh yes, just hold on ma'am."
Hardly able to believe his luck, Christian said: "If this has worked, it's the easiest prank call we have ever made!"
Mrs Saldanha then put the call through to a nurse, who gave out confidential details of the Duchess's condition and treatment. Christian, in particular, could not wait to tell the world about his cunning. He wrote on Twitter: "2nd day on the Hot 30 Countdown and we've made NATIONAL NEWS!!"
The following day, as the hospital discovered it had been hoaxed, its chief executive, John Lofthouse, described the prank as "deplorable", pointing out that nurses were trained to care for people, not to "cope with journalistic trickery".
Mrs Saldanha, and the second nurse who spoke at greater length to Christian and Greig, were not disciplined or suspended by the hospital, which insisted it had given her plenty of support.
St James's Palace, meanwhile, made it clear to the hospital that it did not blame the nurses for what had happened and had sympathy for the two victims. But Mrs Saldanha was, in her own words, "a very nervous person" and friends said she would have been "hit badly" by the prank, which would have "played on her mind".
In Australia, the radio station realised it was facing a backlash from the public, two thirds of whom regarded the stunt as cruel, according to one poll.
2Day FM put out a brief apology for "any inconvenience caused" while Christian said "we were very surprised that our call was put through, we thought we'd be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents".
He added: "We're very sorry if we've caused any issues and we're glad to hear that Kate is doing well."
His subsequent actions, however, and those of his employer, suggested that they were far from sorry. The following day Christian tweeted: "Still haven't heard the royal prank that has the world talking? Listen to it here..."
His most recent tweet, posted Friday at around 9am UK time (8pm AEDT), said: "It's almost show time! The latest on the royal prank is coming up..."
Around half an hour later, an ambulance was called to Weymouth Street, to what is understood to be hospital-owned premises near King Edward VII, where Mrs Saldanha was found unconscious. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Royal College of Nursing said: "It is deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could led to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession."
Mr Christian deleted his Twitter account at 5.15pm last night (4.15am AEDT). Greig had deleted hers several hours before him after a barrage of abuse.
The Daily Telegraph