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Mel Greig breaks radio silence

In a tearful interview on channel 7 the ex-2DayFM radio DJ shares the horrors of the last 18 months since making the royal prank call.

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Former 2Day FM DJ Mel Greig revealed on Channel Seven's Sunday Night that she had urged her bosses to disguise the nurses' voices in the now-infamous "royal prank" segment. And had anyone acted on this sensible advice, it's possible the tragedy may have been averted. 

Nurse Jacintha Saldanha would have been spared the humiliation of hearing her own voice in countless sniggering media reports about the hoax. Her embarrassment at having being so easily duped may have been reduced.

Where were the grown-ups when all these decisions were being made? 

No one can say if this would have been enough to stop her taking her own life.  Saldanha appears to have a history of mental illness. Perhaps merely knowing she'd aided such a public breach of privacy for her royal patient - even unwittingly - would have pushed her over the edge.

Who was running the show? ... Mel Greig couldn't get bosses to listen to her concerns about the prank call.

Who was running the show? ... Mel Greig couldn't get bosses to listen to her concerns about the prank call.

But this is beside the point. Southern Cross Austereo had no idea of Saldanha's mental state before it broadcast the call from Greig and her co-host, Michael Christian. It failed to get her permission, yet went ahead. Even if this is legal, is it ethical?

Greig, as far as we know, is the only one who thought it through. How might the nurses feel? Is there anything we can do to avoid their embarrassment, such as replacing their voices with those of stations DJs?

Unbelievably, she was overriden. According to Melissa Doyle's report on Sunday Night: "SCA [Southern Cross Austereo] have since publicly admitted that prior to the call being broadcast, she [Greig] made suggestions for changes to be made to the recording of the call, 2Day FM decided the recording of the call should be broadcast without alteration." 

Mel Greig crying on <i>Sunday Night</i> about the infamous 'royal prank' call.

Mel Greig crying on Sunday Night about the infamous 'royal prank' call.

Austereo now needs to explain itself. Specifically, it must state why broadcasting the prank call unaltered was deemed more important than Greig's concerns.

She is not blameless. Simply pestering busy hospital staff with childish phone pranks is bad enough. Nurses - overworked at the best of times - have more pressing matters to attend to than dumb radio stunts. And to request private medical information on-air - even as a joke - is ethically dubious. 

Yes, Saldanha's death was unexpected. Most people in her situation wouldn't respond by killing themselves. 

But this wasn't a harmless Candid Camera-style gag. Put yourself in Saldanha's shoes. Imagine the distress of hearing your own voice on multiple TV and radio reports. You detect the incredulity of presenters reporting that two nurses actually believed an Aussie radio host was the Queen. You realise your actions have resulted in your patient, the Duchess of Cambridge, having her privacy invaded. Embarrassing details of her morning sickness are being broadcast the world over.

You had probably prided yourself on the way you had cared for your patients. Now, you feel like an incompetent fool. 

The likely distress of the nurses could have been anticipated - and indeed, it was by Greig. So why was she overruled? Who thought it was a good idea to prank a hospital in the first place? Why did the segment go to air unaltered - or even at all? Where were the grown-ups when all these decisions were being made? 

The obvious question raised by Doyle's interview with Greig is why it took her so long to come clean. Her attempt to disguise the nurses' voices is at the crux of the matter, given it may have had some influence on the tragic outcome.

This delay, however, was attributed to mysterious "legal reasons".

Greig's contract with Austereo may have prevented her from speaking out. But what about after she left? She may have been waiting for the legal protections afforded by speaking at the inquest, which has been postponed three times. Austereo's subsequent admission that Greig requested alterations to the call may have finally provided the legal wriggle-room to talk. If, as she says, she put this request in an email to her bosses, it would have only been a matter of time before the truth emerged.

Fairfax Media asked Austereo to detail the "legal reasons" that Sunday Night hinted at but was told: "We have nothing further to add to this one."

As last night's program explained, Greig has been dumped by the charities she used to represent and is now unemployed. Her co-host in the prank, known as "MC", was subsequently crowned the network's "best top jock" and is currently the anchor of Austereo's national drive show. 

To be clear, Greig is not the victim here. Saldanha and her family are. But Fairfax Media understands Greig is the only one from Austereo who will give evidence at the UK inquest, and who will apologise in person to Saldanha's family. It also appears she gave more thought to the segment than her colleagues did before it aired. 

If Greig hopes that last night's tearful interview will result in instant public redemption, she'll be disappointed. Let's not make a hero out of her. (It's an odd phenomenon: this tendency to admire people who disgrace themselves and then apologise on TV. How about we admire those who never ruin their own lives in the first place - and more importantly, the lives of others?)

Still, the fact that Greig appears to now be acting with some integrity - despite losing her job while her co-host gets promoted - should be acknowledged. Giving evidence at the inquest and meeting Saldanha's family won't be easy. Nor will it make up for what's happened. But it is the right thing to do. 

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au