When looking for culprits in any suspicious death, it is safe to assume someone running away from the scene has something to hide. On Saturday, two of Australia’s largest companies Coles and Telstra were seen running away from Southern Cross Austereo’s radio station 2Day FM with indecent haste after one of Sydney station’s prank calls apparently led to the suicide death of a nurse in a faraway London four days later.
Despite their infantile behaviour 2Day FM DJs Michael “MC” Christian and Mel Greig never intended to cause harm. After hiding for several days, the company wheeled them out to tell their stories to Channel’s 7 and 9 tonight. They have both apologised which is more than can be said of station management and its legal advisers who reviewed and approved the tape before it was played on air.
Last Wednesday two jolly 2Day FM station hosts were conducting the breezy on air patter beloved of morning FM radio stations across the planet. They told listeners they had the telephone number at King Edward VII Hospital in London where Kate Middleton was staying. Christian informed listeners they would “try and get Kate Middleton or even Prince Wills on the line”. They did not tell listeners this was not live.
Michael was to act the role of Prince Charles, Mel was the Queen and another staff member provided the yelps for a royal corgi. How the hospital did not see beyond this half-baked plot remains a mystery especially when the fake upper class accent of Greig (supposedly the Queen) asks to speak for “Kate, my granddaughter.”
Nurse Jacintha Saldanha didn’t ask for any further proof of identification (glossing over the fact the Queen is not Kate’s grandmother) and passed the caller onto Kate’s ward. There another nurse was further duped by Mel, Michael and the corgi’s increasing ludicrous vaudeville acting into revealing matters of the patient’s health.
Saldanha may have died of the shame of being so duped and breaching a trust of confidence but no one comes out of this smelling of roses. This is astonishingly poor risk management by Austereo, particularly as they must have known they were dealing with material of international important given the worldwide prurient interest in the Royal Couple and their future baby. There is a case the material should be in the public domain, particularly as an expose of poor hospital security protocols but Austereo presumably didn’t think they could make money that way.
So they played it for laughs. There was some negative reaction in the days that followed but mostly they got away with it. Grandfather-to-be Prince Charles joked about it asking newspaper reporters. “How do you know I’m not a radio station?” Meanwhile British newspapers gleefully repeated some of the juicy titbits the second nurse gave to 2Day FM.
Then Saldanha died on Saturday, and no one was laughing. British media and social networks became holier than thou and launched a firestorm of protest against the station and its two DJs. Mel and Michael were whisked away into hiding and their twitter accounts deleted.
Others fled quickly too with reports of Telstra and Coles speedily ceasing their advertising with 2DayFM (but not Southern Cross Austereo’s other stations). Telstra told AAP they had suspended “advertising on the station until an investigation into the issue has concluded”. Neither they nor Coles issued media releases to confirm their actions. A check of Coles newsroom boasts “there’s always something new happening at Coles,” but they didn’t see their abandonment of 2DayFM in their moment of crisis newsworthy of a media release.
What Coles did do was put their justification on Facebook. “We understand Australians are clearly angry and upset by what appear to be tragic consequences of the 2Day FM UK hospital prank,” the retailer wrote. “We have wanted to let you know we have instructed 2Day FM to remove all Coles group advertising from the station as soon as possible.”
That post brought almost 2000 comments with also half the respondents thinking Coles’ reaction was over the top. “It was a funny joke, get over it”, said Anthony Paino before reminding Coles of other things they should boycott. “How about your remove all caged eggs and pork from your shelves,” he said.
Helz Jessop asked would they stop selling alcohol if they killed someone drink driving while Abbi Hamilton was looking for patriotism: “Why not do something proper and remove all imported food and drinks from your aisles?” she said.
Phil Young said it was advertisers like Coles that made the radio stations “untouchable and unaccountable,” Young said. “Now that Coles have suddenly got a conscience they might look at some of the other stuff they are involved in that causes harm.”
Coles can attempt to take the high ground with their move. But the fact remains they only boycotted it after Saldanha’s death – they presumably thought the content was not objectionable at the time as it was played.
The big companies’ rapid stampede to the exit after the media firestorm on Saturday caused the station to cover their tracks similar to the way it handled stablemate Alan Jones’s “died of shame” comment. A spokeswoman for Austereo, Sandy Kay,let the cat out of the bag when she confirmed to AAP that there would be no advertising on 2Day FM over the weekend.
“We have suspended advertising at least until Monday on that radio station in Sydney out of respect to advertisers until business issues can really be addressed,’ Kay said. It was respect to advertisers Austereo was worried about, not respect to the dead woman.
What did Kay mean by “business issues” that could be resolved in a couple of days? Perhaps she was thinking the Jones boycott lasted only a couple of weeks and advertisers were desperate to be associated with their high-rating product no matter how juvenile or crass the consequences.
Mel and Michael were idiots but they were doing what the station and their advertisers expected of them. As radio DJ Jason ‘Jabba’ Davis said audiences want to be in on the joke. “As broadcasters we want to make people laugh, but we need to pull it off without dishing out grief to the undeserving,” Davis said.
If you are feeling suicidal, don’t mess around. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.