Media must wipe stain from their reputation
THE tragic death of the British nurse who was tricked by a pair of Australian shock jocks will take a heavy toll on the credibility of the already embattled media sector.
In a week when newspaper editors in Britain agreed to sign up to a stronger code of conduct as the fallout from Lord Leveson's inquiry continued, this latest shocking turn of events will leave a dark stain on the tattered reputation of the mainstream media.
It matters little in the eyes of the public that the 2DayFM DJs responsible for the prank call to the hospital that ended with the death of 46-year-old Jacintha Saldanha are not journalists. Their tactics have already been referred to by the hospital's chief executive as ''journalistic trickery''.
There is a strong current of distrust of the media, which are supposed to be an ally of the public, exposing corruption and standing up for those without a voice.
The shock jocks are a subset of the mass media that has wallowed in the mud of the phone-hacking affair in recent years and continually pushed beyond the reasonable boundaries.
Newspapers, radio and television stations have a duty to report news to their audiences, as well as provide entertainment. But that entertainment cannot come at the expense of members of the public.
Media organisations do not have the right to humiliate innocent people who are unlikely to have experience in dealing with shock jocks and gotcha reporters.
That this prank came from an Australian radio station will be a particular source of shame for the industry in this country, even if there is no way the tragic outcome could have been predicted.
The media have long argued against having heavy limitations imposed on them, arguing that self-regulation is the best way to balance independence and the public's right to protection. That argument will ring ever more hollow as the result of this latest act of irresponsibility.
Sponsors have started pulling out, the presenters in question have been taken off air and the condemnation from around the world has been swift.
But it is now up to 2DayFM and the entire Australian media to respond appropriately and come up with genuine safeguards to ensure there are no similar acts.
There are risks attached to having government bodies impose controls on the media, which are supposed to hold those in power to account. But unless the media sector is prepared to realign its values with those of its audience, it will have no one but itself to blame when the regulation hammer falls.