Pair off air after prank recipient's death
Radio 2DayFM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian will not return to radio for some time, after a British nurse who took a prank call from their show died. Lifeline: 13 11 14.PT0M0S 620 349
Suicide is an ugly business. Its shockwaves ripple far and wide. Guilt visits everyone who knew the person. But blame cannot breathe life into the dead. And if we're not careful, it can do the opposite.
The two radio presenters who prank-called the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was convalescing could not have predicted the horror that would unfold.
While suicide is a complex issue and we cannot know with any certainty exactly why this tragedy happened, these radio presenters now have to live with the knowledge that a silly stunt may have triggered a personal maelstrom that ultimately resulted in a woman's death.
My thoughts are with the family of the nurse found dead this morning in a suspected suicide.
But I also worry for the mental welfare of those radio presenters.
They are experiencing an avalanche of hatred from social media users. And some of it is from people within their own industry.
But in the rush to condemn them, journalists and commentators would do well to first reflect on their own careers.
There can't be a person working in media who hasn't done something they later regret.
Every day we interview strangers, with little knowledge of what might be going on in their personal lives, or how well-equipped they are to handle the spotlight.
Of course, we have a duty of care to those people and it's always a delicate judgment call, but the reality is it's virtually impossible to know what domino effect that exposure might cause.
I found this out the hard way a few years ago. A man who I'd exposed as a conman - he'd passed himself off as a shaman healer and had inappropriate sexual contact with several clients - took his own life shortly after the story went to print.
The news left me cold. I knew there were other factors at play - he was being pursued through the courts by Victorian health regulators who warned he was a danger to the public - but it didn't make me feel any better. A man was dead and if I hadn't written that story he might not be. The guilt has never left me.
I did my best to assess his mental health status before going ahead with the story. As part of the legal proceedings against him an independent psychiatric report had found him to be of sound mind.
But does that absolve me of responsibility? Where does the media's duty of care end?
On Monday, I spoke at a journalism educators' conference about the challenges of telling the stories of people who have experienced mental illness or may be otherwise vulnerable.
It's important that these voices are heard, but as a journalist with no medical training, how can I be sure that someone who may have suffered from clinical depression or struggled with suicidal thoughts, is now well enough to talk about those experiences?
I know of incidents in which people who have told their story to the media and have gone on to self-harm, have a relapse in their condition or in one extreme case, end their life.
Whether that was as a direct result of the media coverage, we may never know, but it's enough to make me pause to reflect on how much that next story is worth.
It's one thing to have a conversation one-on-one with a reporter, but it can be much more confronting when the subject sees their personal story splashed across the front page of a newspaper.
And if that story catches the attention of other media and my interviewee becomes a public commodity, am I responsible for how other news outlets treat them?
In the case of the nurse who took that prank call, I suspect it wasn't the call itself that caused such distress but the subsequent global media storm. Yet Sydney's 2Day FM presenters wear all the blame.
Sure, the prank was stupid - but there have been countless far sillier stunts that did not have such horrific results.
I've no doubt that with the perfect vision of hindsight they would not repeat it. But could they have known this woman was vulnerable? Doubtful.
They knew no more about her background than the other journalists and radio DJs who, on a daily basis, swoop into the lives of the general public before moving on to the next story.
Our duty of care is to do everything we can to protect those people. But sometimes, even with the best of intentions and the most diligent checks, things go tragically wrong.
For help or information call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au