THE radio presenters at the centre of the royal prank call have claimed they were not ultimately responsible for a stunt that has caused outrage at a London hospital, provoked fury at Buckingham Palace and been linked to the death of a UK nurse.
Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the presenters of Sydney station 2Day FM's Hot 30 show, came out of hiding to issue tearful apologies last night on not one but two current affairs television programs. But in doing so they sought to distance themselves from responsibility for the prank call to King Edward VII's Hospital on December 4, in which they pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles and were put through to a nurse who revealed details about the medical condition of the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge.
"You prank someone, you record it, then it goes to the other departments to work out what they want to do with it," a clearly distraught Greig told Nine's A Current Affair. "It's been done for years. It was routine for us. It wasn't anything different."
Asked by host Tracy Grimshaw what guidelines were in place to determine what was acceptable in a prank call, Greig said: "It's not up to us to make that decision. We just record it and then it goes to the other departments to work out. I don't know what they then do with it. We just do what we do, which is make those calls."
Her co-host added that "there's a process in place" for everything that goes to air, and the royal prank "was put through every filter that everything is put through".
"We just made the phone call and that was it. We don't get to make those decisions, we don't get to make those calls, that's done by other people. Our role is just to record and get the audio and wait to be told whether it's OK or not OK."
Their account appears to tally with a statement issued by the station's owner, Southern Cross Austereo, late yesterday.
The statement claimed an internal review had found that "company protocols were adhered to" in airing the segment. They included "internal legal review" and "authorisation".
Earlier in the day, chief executive Rhys Holleran told 3AW's Neil Mitchell that five attempts had been made to contact the hospital before the segment was broadcast, without success.
"We don't claim to be perfect and we always strive to do better. We have initiated a detailed and rigorous review of our policies and procedures to inform any improvements we can make," Mr Holleran said.
''We are also providing support to our people who are deeply saddened by this tragic and unforeseen event."
On both Today Tonight and A Current Affair, Christian said he and his co-host were "shattered, gutted and heartbroken". Greig told Nine that "there’s not a minute that goes by that we aren't thinking about [the dead nurse] and her family, and the thought that we might have played a part in that is gut-wrenching".
She told Seven that the situation ‘‘doesn’t seem real ... it was meant to be a silly little prank that so many people have done before. This wasn’t meant to happen.”
"There’s no malice in the call," added Christian.
In its immediate aftermath, the call was lauded as a coup not just by the radio pair but by other media. Sydney’s Daily Telegraph hailed Christian and Greig the following day for having "bagged the best international scoop so far in the unfolding soap opera that is the Kate Middleton pregnancy".
But following the discovery of the body of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who is believed to have taken her own life – Britain’s Daily Mail reported yesterday that her brother Naveen believes she "died of shame" – things have turned sour for the presenters and their station.
Facing an expected advertiser backlash, all advertising was suspended from 2Day FM on Friday. The blackout was originally planned to last until Monday, but was last night in place "until further notice".
Advertising agency boss and former media buyer Ben Willee estimated it could be costing it about $150,000 a day.
Southern Cross Austereo also announced last night that Hot 30 had been terminated and that prank calls across the company had been suspended.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority has confirmed that it is not investigating any possible breach at this stage.