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TV & Radio

Dec 10, 2012

Resisting the witch hunt on the royal prank call

The royal phone prank may have been poorly executed, but the witch hunt ensuing from the death of one of the parties shouldn't be the basis for further media regulation. Hard cases make for bad law.


According to 2010 figures, on average around 11 people take their own lives in the UK every day, but the apparent suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, unsurprisingly, garnered far more attention than most. The sickening feeling of reading about it on (for most of us) Saturday morning, of course, doesn’t begin to encompass what her family and loved ones must feel, made worse — if that’s humanly possible — by the time of year.

In response, the social media equivalent of an angry, torch-bearing mob formed quickly on Saturday. Information is transmitted at the speed of light online, but on social media outrage is carried at warp speed. Ill-informed outrage, in particular, barely needs to travel at all, and instead can blossom simultaneously in multiple minds.

A thousand weeds, and more, thus bloomed on the weekend, with media regulator ACMA fielding complaints from people around the world, people presumably unaware that, while ACMA can initiate an investigation itself, normally the broadcaster about whom people are complaining gets first crack at responding before the regulator intervenes.

Some in the local media were quick to defend radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian. Others suggested there’d been a breach of the industry’s code of practice (it isn’t clear that there was). A few were damning.

The last thing the Australian mainstream media currently needs is anything suggesting greater media regulation is needed, given the government is still mulling its reaction to the Finkelstein report. But that didn’t seem to inform the responses; the Herald Sun, for example, ran two damning op-eds, including a vicious one from its opinion editor calling for the two hosts to be permanently unemployed and sympathetically reporting a call that they be “strung up”.

The lynch mob, as it turned out, wasn’t confined to new media.

Most of the reactions, hostile and not, assumed, often after a pro forma admission that it was unclear as to what might have motivated Saldanha to take her life, that it was the prank that had caused her death, even though Saldanha wasn’t the one who had passed on any confidential information, but merely transferred the call.

By Saturday afternoon, Fairfax had a live blog up and running, with breathless reports of the latest (over)reaction. In due course, we were informed that British tabloids had dispatched journalists to Australia to hunt down the offending “DJs”, and that British police wished to speak with them.

That, at least, provided whatever black humour could be obtained from all this: the discredited British police, so recently revealed to be part of an industrial-scale bribery operation run by the owners of Britain’s tabloids, who in effect operated as an arm of News International, want to give full voice to the reflexive, Empire-on-which-the-sun-never-sets extraterritoriality of the British criminal justice system by interviewing two Australians about a UK suicide. Then again, given that being prosecuted for joke tweets and offensive but harmless political statements is now normal in the UK, it’s not surprising.

Better yet, the newspaper industry that gave us phone hacking, computer hacking, industrial-scale bribery, and which is demonstrably responsible for at least one suicide and one attempted suicide in recent years, has mounted its high horse against the hated colonials. Noted journal of record The Sun — which engaged in phone hacking and mass bribery of British public officials — suggested Greig and Christian be tried for treason, and exhumed a royal scholar to explain how it could be done. The Guardian reported that some in India were calling for the Indian government to somehow intervene.

Before Saldanha’s death, it was a very different story from some UK outlets. “It simply beggars belief that a member of the public could call up and obtain details of the Duchess’s medical condition in this way,” the Daily Mail quoted a former royal press secretary as saying, before the suicide.

In fact, the Mail seemed to be a little in awe of the Australian hosts and was rather taken with Greig. “Blonde Mel Greig, 30, is said to be a ‘bundle of laughs’ who enjoys being mischievous,” the Mail enthused, before going on to discuss her private life..

By Saturday, the Mail had stopped its long-distance leering at Greig, replacing it with “sick jokers” who had provoked “global outrage”.

For those of us mystified by the public interest in the antics of a family of in-bred European billionaires, the original prank had little relevance or interest. Many were quick to conflate Greig and Christian’s actions with some of the more depraved behaviour of colleague Kyle Sandilands, but in fact there was a signal difference.

A prank or stunt that is aimed simply at humiliation of those without power or authority serves no purpose beyond vilification. But regardless of the intent of the perpetrators, this prank actually had some public interest, by revealing how strongly the culture of class-based deference lives on in the United Kingdom and how a young woman — it’s irrelevant how privileged or wealthy she is — could have her privacy so grotesquely breached by an institution with a duty of care towards her.

That the hospital — as if to confirm the role of class in this, overseen by one “Lord Glenarthur” — has subsequently sought to deflect attention from its own significant failings onto the pranksters is shoot-the-messenger stuff.

Still, it’s hard to escape the sickening stench of Sandilands in this instance because Southern Cross Austereo failed to take appropriate action on him. Sandilands should have been sacked for his repeated offences of personal vilification and misogyny, but continues to pollute the airwaves.

Community reaction to Greig and Christian is partly driven by displaced anger at the unwillingness of the broadcaster and the inability of the broadcasting regulator to deal appropriately with a far worse offender, who has flouted basic expectations of decency with apparent impunity because of his capacity to generate revenue.

Money, free speech and community reactions are all pulling the issue in different directions. The reaction of both the UK and local media is driven by the need to monetise the story, and if exploiting it means the likes of the Daily Mail turning on a penny, that’s fine: reverse all the ferrets.

But the tragedy also touched that deep-seated Australian instinct to regulate away unpopular things. The ultimate logic of much of the anger directed toward the broadcaster is that nothing that causes offence to anyone anywhere should be broadcast, because there’s always a possibility that someone will react in a tragic way, even if that couldn’t have been reasonably foreseen by a broadcaster.

That’s our growing offence culture, our growing insistence that nothing we see should conflict with our views or somehow offend us, taken to its logical end-point, and it’s a shabby basis on which to extend broadcasting regulation. Moreover, a tragedy like this — assuming there’s any connection between the prank and Saldanha’s death, which has yet to be demonstrated — is such an unusual occurrence that any regulatory reflex prompted by it is bound to make for poor outcomes. Hard cases, after all, make for bad law.

So here I am, defending the right of a broadcasting licensee I loathe to make a poorly-executed prank call that seems to have caused a heart-breaking outcome. Still, none of the alternatives — the baying for blood of the hypocrites of the British tabloids, the imperial mentality of a discredited police force, or the impulse to further restrict speech based on unforeseeable consequences — strike me as preferable.

* If you are in need of help or information visit beyondblue.org.au, call Lifeline on 131 114 or visit this page for a detailed list of support services.


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62 thoughts on “Resisting the witch hunt on the royal prank call

  1. klewso

    The Herald Sun, with their record, wanted to get out and lead a lynch mob?

  2. ulysses butterfly

    The professional media have a blind spot on their abuse of power because they are addicted to hyperbole and emotional violence, where a debate is a “war”, irritation with a stakeholder is an “eruption”, and a response is an “explosion”. These are the immoderate words of the leading practitioners Oakes, Clennell, Benson etc.

    Mike Carlton taking the hypocrisy line himself is hopelessly immoderate to get attention. The very description reptile eating carrion exists for a reason.

    Really you are the last people to judge on emotional violence. Fact is a prank is a fraud, probably an illegal impersonation of a public official (no less the head of State), and a calculated cruelty by immature buffoons. It’s Jeff Bridges in The Fisher King only it’s not fiction.

    Fact is you pros in the professional media all feel dirty and you probably should because you all live in that house.

  3. Mark out West

    Bernard are these are not the foreseeable consequences;
    1.If their call was put through the first person to take the call would be in trouble for not vetting the call properly.
    2. Once through, to ask for confidential medical information would also bring into question the person who provided that information.

    Given the high anxiety of the British to intrusions of the press, the consequences it had on the Royal Family in the past and the high regard the two individuals are held in, is there any wonder those poor nurses felt under pressure.

    The antic was morally bankrupt as it was seeking to obtain confidential medical advise and it was obvious those providing it would be under enormous pressure to explain why.

    Bernard have you been pulled into the office and asked to be more right wing to broaden the readership?

  4. Gavin Moodie

    If the nurse did suicide because of something related to her work did her employer the hospital monitor and protect her health appropriately?

  5. Venise Alstergren

    BERNARD K: Good one. Also, the pranksters involved were merely playing to the crashing obsession of the average Australian who grovels towards British royalty. Without this unhealthy interest in foreign royalty, there would have been no prank.

    Despite the waffling of the British press, to suppose the nurse committed suicide because of it, is ludicrous.

  6. klewso

    Would they have been “Murdoch journalists” (with that institution’s record for man-handling the truth – anything for a by-line) despatched to Australia to hunt down Greig and Christian, for another head-line?

  7. kraken

    Whilst I agree with many of the sentiments expressed here – particularly the breathtaking hypocrisy of the British & Australian gutter press – I’m afraid BK goes a little lightly on radio jocks who breach privacy through low-rent pranks – it is a form of bullying and public humiliation that privacy provisions are supposed to prevent, especially protections around the recording and broadcasting of material. The rights and wrongs of how the British establishment and all media respond are tangential to the overriding privacy issue. This has little to do with ‘class’ but everything to do with common decency, with an emphasis on ‘common’. Yes, the royals are fair game but hospital employees are not reasonable collateral victims under any circumstances.

  8. Shakira Hussein

    The most likely outcome is that the barriers between public figures (not just the royals) and the rest of the world will be further reinforced, which I would consider A Bad Thing.

  9. ulysses butterfly

    And to add a little more legalese to the analsis, it’s the emotional violence version of connecting with the proverbial eggshell thin skull victime in an accident in a civil claim for negligence as taught in torts in first year law degrees.

    Such as this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_skull

    You didn’t know the victim was extra vulnerable, but you could reasonably foresee some degree of injury if only to reputation and emotional well being. The extreme consequence is but an extension of the same qualitative wrongful action. A question of degree not type.

    Better get a lawyer, better get a real good one.

  10. drsmithy

    The only good that might come of this is a self-imposed ban by radio stations on prank calling – quite possibly the lowest form of humor one can find on radio (and that’s saying something).

  11. jmendelssohn

    “mystified by the public interest in the antics of a family of in-bred European billionaires” – Well said!

  12. Malcolm Harrison

    despite your series of weak rationalisations, and despite the fact that i agree the protagonists do not deserve to be targeted to the exclusion of others, this is not something that can be brushed under some legal carpet with a shrug of the shoulders and appeals to freedom of the press. that the press is currently under pressure is totally down to this kind of crass an opportunistic journalism.

  13. mikeb

    Amazing the hypocrisy of those who thought it oh so clever & amusing a short time ago who are now outraged. There is nothing so satisfying as a good old fashioned outrage – especially from within the confines of a glass house. The ongoing investigation will probably reveal a bit more background on what happened, but don’t be surprised if the hospital in question might have given the poor nurse a right old “bollocking” for transferring the call & thereby giving it apparent legitimacy. I don’t care much for stunt radio, but in this case the prosecution does not match the crime.

  14. Jimmy

    This from the SMH seems to sum up the stupidity surrounding this issue – “The massive community backlash from the so-called royal prank-gone-wrong by two shock jocks on 2Day FM” When did these two become shock jocks?

    To me the prank was harmless enough and showed up the hospitals lack of security and is it really logical that an otherwise happy nurse who was also a wife and mother committed su icide simply because she transferred a phone call from these two? Come on!

  15. drmick

    There is the problem in a nutshell. There was a time when people had respect. Respect for each other, respect for authority and respect for people who had earned it.
    “Journalist” and the “press” have no respect. Never have, never will and there is nothing, (allegedly in the public interest), that makes them stop and think about anything other than making a quid.
    This consequence is entirely to be expected when you have this type of tr ash having no respect for our prime minister, no respect for the relatives of cruelly murder@d babies and more vil& trash coming up with fun ways to destroy young females who have been r@ ped or villify anyone who is not as depr@ ved as they are.

    You all have blood on your hands Bernard.

    You know what would have been funny? If Bushs security guards had shot the funny chaser person dressed in a funny hat and beard. Would the press be laughing then?

  16. JacetheAce

    There’s already legal recourse in this matter if the authorities want to take action and make examples of the pressenters and their producers. Forget the Codes of Practice, the failure on the part of 2Day to get the hospital’s consent to airing the interview breaches Federal and State telecommunications interception laws, which is far more serious. Ben Fordham got done for this a few years back. You can’t record a telephpone conversation with someone and not tell them about that fact, let alone broadcast the call.

    As for the media’s behaviour; they would happily eat their own. A Current Affair and Today Tonight must be salivating at all the free press their going to get tomorrow in the British tabloids. The confected outrage by the likes of The Daily Fail and The Sun is enough to induce a case of hyperemesis gravidarum.

  17. Jan Forrester

    Reality check: Let us hope that we don’t have two more at risk people at 2DAYFM. Yes the two presenters. The 2DAY FM culture expects its presenters to to to the edge of outrage. Advertisers and listeners seem to like it.

    The things that stand out for me: The Prince Edward hospital clearly has weaker protocols regarding giving out private information than similar Australian hospitals. In the case of a Royal patient, the nurses on duty clearly had no specific protocols to deal with Royal callers – apart from putting them straight through. In Royal-crazy Great Britain you’d think the hospital would have risk management strategies. Then there are those other issues: impersonating a royal personage etc. To my Republican senses this is crazy, but…..

    Yes, the British police have just been involved in a massive cross-institutional criminal hackathon, the ramifications of which are still unfolding. Maybe.

    BUT we should not do what the British are trying to do: enjoy the opportunity to take the heat off their own institutions. 2DAY has questions to answer.

    2DAY’s management-fuelled push-to-pranksterism suits advertisers and listeners. Whilst we have the regulations we do under ACMA, they are unlikely to pull back once this is over. Its about the money. Sigh.

  18. iggy648

    The Royals seemed unphased as they left the hospital. It was apparently no more than a minor annoyance to them. Even HRH the D of E made a joke about it. If it was an appalling prank on Saturday, why wasn’t it on Thursday? We should wait for the investigation to be completed. We don’t know if she did commit suicide. If she did, how likely was it because of a silly prank that had no apparent impact on the Royal couple themselves? Did the Hospital management give her a dressing down? Is their belated outrage covering their own inept response? Who knows?

  19. Donald

    A witch hunt against Mel Greig and Michael Christian as if they are directly responsible for the nurse’s suicide is out of line – but this leaves plenty of room for going after 2DayFM for its practices – PARTICULARLY broadcasting anyone’s medical condition. This morning’s news that they tried to contact the hospital before broadcasting the prank call is surprising: if they thought it was important to try to make this call, why didn’t they hold the story UNTIL they got through and gained approval?

  20. Jimmy

    Dr Mick – In yesterday’s Herald Sun, the article I think BK referred to, had the author talking about the DJ’s “smug stupid faces”. How what they look like has any bearing on anything I don’t know and given they haven’t been seen since the prank and were rarely seen before he must only be seeing from the websites publicity shot I don’t really see how them looking “smug” out of context is relevant at all.

    Some of these journalists better hope they never offend the twittershpere’s sensibilities

  21. Jimmy

    Mark out West – Get off it, firstly if BK was being more right wing he would of been calling for the DJ’s heads like every other monarchist and conservative.

    Second the royal family wasn’t going to make a fuss ober the incident and the woman in question was hardly going to lose her job over transferring the call so how is it forseeable that a supposedly otherwise happy person would commit suicide over the prospect of being told off?

    And third given the terrible impersonations and the hammy corgi references I can’t see how anyone could forsee that they would be taken remotely seriously let alone given person medical information (which as far as I am aware was that Kate had a good sleep)

  22. Aphra

    Nobody seems to question the fraud’s purpose – to obtain private information about a very sick woman whose pregnancy could well have been at risk. No matter who else is to blame nor who the patient was, the original intent was despicable but only called as such after the nurse’s death. It was congratulations all round before that.

  23. Pinklefty

    Bernard, Venise, Jimmy and a couple of other have got it right. Correlation does not equal causation. If this ‘prank’ did prompt this woman’s unfortunate death, it would suggest that she had a ridiculously thin skin.

    Or, perhaps, some others are advocating that no-one should ever upset anyone — in case the injured party decides to top himself? I’ll now not dare to complain about lousy food in a restaurant?

    As mikeb pointed out, she could well have been reacting to a ferocious bollocking from a superior; maybe carrying adverse career consequences. It’s so much easier to blame the ‘shock jocks’.

    A lot more circumspection is warranted!

  24. notmensa

    Two things:
    1. Had the hospital been located in Australia, 2DayFM would need to obtain consent from both nurses involved, and the patient whose medical information was being made public, and possibly the hospital, prior to the recording going to air. 2DayFM seems to have been given legal advice that consent and privacy laws did not apply since the hospital / victims / patient were overseas.

    2. Once the had disclosed confidential medical information (to which the DJs were not entitled and had gained through fraud), IT WAS FORESEEABLE that the nurses’ jobs, and their careers, were likely to be at risk if the call was broadcast. The nurses potentially breached hospital policies, UK medical records laws and the code of conduct of their nursing registration board. At the very least they would’ve been subject to intense media scrutiny and investigation by the hospital. 2DayFM chose to repeatedly broadcast the recording with apparently reckless disregard for this likely outcome.

    There is simply no way this can be described as an innocent or harmless prank.

  25. Noely Neate

    @ Jan Forrester I agree. I would be concerned as to the state of mind of the DJ’s and seriously hope that the station has not forced this ridiculous interview with Grimshaw on them as the backlash is going to be even more horrific as ACA is not exactly the right forum for that sort of thing at all. These kids are not making decisions on what to air or not and I would say will be hung out to dry by the station. Just as the poor nurse was probably grilled to the max by the Hospital Admin, security etc., The Station & the The Hospital are the people accountable, plus toss in the actual listeners of the station who demand the pranks for fun. The stations would not due if there was not ratings in it 🙁

  26. archibald

    It amuses me that all the education and technology that we have in this “global village” has simply enabled us to behave just as our illiterate ancestors would have in a real village centuries ago: someone bursts into the tavern with a tale of supposed wrongs and the mob reach for their torches and pitchforks and rush to string someone up.

  27. Robert Barwick

    Is there a cover-up going on here? What action was taken against this woman by her superiors at the hospital, for her mistake. And if action was taken against her, were the consequences greater because it involved the precious Royals? In other words, was she made to feel horrible, because of England’s cultish, North Korean-style adulation of their Monarch?

  28. Savonrepus

    It is not up to the social media to make judgement on this. It is about time the due process of the law was allowed to take its course. It is rather unfair that every time I ring a utility supplier I have to suffer mechanical voices warning me about my conversation being recorded and yet just because they work for some elitist radio station they can treat people employed to take care of others as an object of humour and pretend that there is no law in relation to this matter. It is no wonder the world is continually at war when we treat other nations with contempt rather than respect.

    There was probably nothing wrong with the original call and if the law had been followed, permission received for broadcasting and the receivers of the call were not subject to follow up humiliation then all could have been well. Here clearly short cuts were taken to a disaster.

  29. shepherdmarilyn

    Bernard has been in Canberra too long and has sucked up the media arrogance and belief that they can do whatever they like, repeat any old crap as news and pretend to be respectable.

    Crikey has gone down hill in recent times.

  30. David R

    It is worth noting that if this “prank” had been carried out in the name of real investigative reporting into hospital privacy it would still have breached ethical standards.

  31. zut alors

    The nurse’s unnecessary death is pitiful. It’s lamentable that people willingly tune in to the piffle which passes as commercial breakfast radio in Australia.

    I agree with Bernard K that some of the vitriol for the two announcers is a hangover from Sandil@nds’ sordid chapter which was never addressed adequately by the wimps comprising the Southern Cross Austereo board.

  32. con hatzi

    so according to supporters of free speech mumbo jumbo

    I can now call anyone on the planet and impersonate someone…and regardless of end result I was Joking and im free….because I was exercising my rights?


  33. Peter Shute

    You have been derogatory about “Lord Glenarthur” (why the emphasis?) yet not a word about our own Max Moore Wilton who is paid a small fortune to oversee this tawdry radio network and it’s “pranks”.

    Anyone, including the DJs and their managers who doesn’t think the nurse Jacintha Saldanha would not eventually be hauled over the coals for such an extraordinary breach of security (the royals are terrorist targets)is dreaming. No wonder the poor woman felt devastated. One day she is doing her job, the next she is the butt of jokes around the world.

    Just because the pendulum has swung the other way does not forgive anyone who fosters this tabloid culture where anyone, guilty or innocent of anything, is a plaything in the hands of those with power in the media-to be used, dissected, humiliated and spat out when their usefullness has been exhausted.

    Pointing the finger at the British is a bit much as well. It was an Australian media magnate who dragged the UK’s newspaper publishing industry into the gutter.

    Lord Leveson has proposed a very sensible form of control: a libel tribunal for the ordinary citizen. It’s the least they deserve.

  34. Peter Shute

    People who also dismiss William & Kate as some sort of irrelevant couple are avoiding reality.

    At this stage William is still the future King of Australia and neither can avoid the life they were born into.
    They are terrorist targets and many of their family have been murdered over the decades.

    The hospital must answer as to why such a breach of security could occur. But to pretend the nurse would not have been reprimanded is wrong.

    I also wonder about shareholders in Austereo who apparently care little about the morality of employees as along as the profits roll in.

  35. Barbara Boyle

    It was fascinating listening to The Spin Doctor segment on this morning’s local ABC radio. Diagnosing the nurse’s mental health took up the first sentance,followed by frequent referrals to the Young Disc Jockeys.”.From which I inferred these were two youngsters,early twenties maybe. Dr Spin, you’ll be happy to hear saved his concern for their mental health. Now, after reading your article it seems at least one of them is thirty years old.

    My tuppenceworth: the gulf between the nurse whose profressionalism dictates that patient security is top priority and her responsibilty and the Djs who regarded their penetration of the hospital’s security system as a great success is probably insuperable.


  36. fractious

    the discredited British police, so recently revealed to be part of an industrial-scale bribery operation run by the owners of Britain’s tabloids, who in effect operated as an arm of News International, want to give full voice to the reflexive, Empire-on-which-the-sun-never-sets extraterritoriality of the British criminal justice system by interviewing two Australians about a UK suicide.

    What, all British police forces and officers were involved? Really?

    And “extraterritoriality” is the sole preserve of the British press is it Bernard?

    For someone who is so ready to lecture everybody – and the media and the police in the UK in particular – about the consequences of ill-informed polemic you do a pretty decent line in hyperventilating jingoism yourself. And on top of that you insist that this latest example of the base, insensitive and crass crap that constitutes so much of Australian media output does not mean “greater media regulation is needed”. If this doesn’t count wtf does?

  37. drmick

    I have been a Nurse for over 30 years. We are continually subjected to physical and mental abuse from both the public and our employers.
    We have an “elevated” sense of responsibility given our training and the integrity of the art science and spirit of our profession. We know what respect is and we practice what we preach; sometimes at great cost to our own personal beliefs and practices.
    This is apparently the opposite of what the “press” in America England & Australia represent.
    Apparently we should be grateful and happy that some one has taken their life thanks to the repeated attempts of a radio station to get a laugh. This is free speech and this is worth protecting.??? wtf
    I am outraged
    This is just another abuse.
    Its not funny and it is not the first time this mob have done it.
    You get off it Jimmy.
    The only ar$eholes not suffering are the ones responsible for it. They should close the radio network and take a few more with it.

  38. ulysses butterfly

    Legal practitioners with more experience than I in NSW in relation to the tort of deceit may have a view about this by the NSW Court of Appeal:

    “Held: By Sheller JA, Mason P and Handley JA agreeing: ….(3) In an action for deceit the victim of the undefined fraud is entitled to compensation for all the actual loss directly flowing from the transaction induced by the wrongdoer including consequential loss whether or not the loss was foreseeable. Smith New Court Securities Limited v Citibank NA [1996] UKHL 3; [1997] AC 254 referred to.”

    in AUYEUNG & ANOR v CHAN [1999] NSWCA 417Auyeung & v Chan [1999] NSWCA 417 (26 November 1999)

    and then there is this discussion of the tort of deceit in the High Court of Australia beyond commercial relations to personal injury for deceit, in Magill v Magill
    [2006] HCA 51, per Chief Judge Gleeson:

    “37 The elements of the tort of deceit were stated by Viscount Maugham, in Bradford Third Equitable Benefit Building Society v Borders[22], as follows (omitting his Lordship’s citation of authority):

    “First, there must be a representation of fact made by words, or, it may be, by conduct. ….. Secondly, the representation must be made with a knowledge that it is false. It must be wilfully false, or at least made in the absence of any genuine belief that it is true. Thirdly, it must be made with the intention that it should be acted upon by the plaintiff, or by a class of persons which will include the plaintiff, in the manner which resulted in damage to him. If, however, fraud be established, it is immaterial that there was no intention to cheat or injure the person to whom the false statement was made. Fourthly, it must be proved that the plaintiff has acted upon the false statement and has sustained damage by so doing.”

  39. ulysses butterfly

    It gets worse, with Gleeson CJ of the HCA here on the tort of deceit:

    “41 Harm may result from a course of action induced by a fraudulent misrepresentation, even though it has nothing to do with questions of contract or with inducement to undertake financial obligations. An example is Mafo v Adams[26] where the plaintiff was fraudulently induced to undertake an unpleasant journey, and was awarded compensation for the inconvenience and discomfort. (The case of Richardson v Silvester[27], earlier mentioned, was a case where a plaintiff was compensated for the expense of a fraudulently induced journey.) There is no reason in principle why the harm for which the tort may provide compensation should not include personal injury , or why personal injury should not include psychiatric injury, but the harm for which damages are awarded is the “actual damage directly flowing from the fraudulent inducement”, that is to say, the damage directly flowing from the alteration of the plaintiff’s position which occurred as a result of the inducement. Distress, disappointment, frustration and anger may all be natural responses to discovery of deception, but the tort of deceit does not set out to compensate people for wounded pride or dignity, or for the pain that results from broken illusions.” [end quote of the HCA]

    Sure no damages for superficial hurt feelings, but how about liability for loss from psychiatic injury and suicide when faced with destruction of a nursing career in a class conscious white bread upper class Establishment, combined with a life of media notoriety for unintentionally bringing shame onto the future King and Queen??

  40. David Hand

    In saying (rightly) that the British press is worse and the Met police complicit, you are introducing a red herring. It’s all irrelevant to the story.

    The blame fairly and squarely lies with the people who made the call and the organisation that encouraged them and then chose to broadcast.

    Apportioning even a small amount of blame to the hospital is ridiculous. Hospitals cost an arm and a leg already without burdening them with a media and communications department just to head off rank stupidity.

    I’m with those who are saying that the media is incapable of having any sense of responsibility at all. Though there are implications about risk to our democracy if the media is government controlled, professionals in the industry should think about that before they sanction something as stupid and ignorant as lying on the radio for the entertainment of your listeners.

    I am satisfied that the regulations are in place to severly punish Austereo. I expect ACMA to slap them on the wrist with a wet bus ticket. Sometime in 2015. On a Friday afternoon.

  41. ulysses butterfly

    Today should avoid a lawyer’s picnic and pay, and pay well.

  42. Gerry Hatrick, OAP

    One thing that I take out of this – no need to hack into Royal’s phones, just give them a ring and ask.
    And on a sour note, let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Yes, you, Murdoch.

  43. Venise Alstergren

    I rather like the comment of my dentist on all of this. “The media have to pile on every inaccuracy they can invent, because by tomorrow afternoon the public will have forgotten all about it”.

    Depressingly accurate.

  44. Chris Johnson

    A thorough post-mortem into 2DAY FM’s latest disastrous prank would do the radio industry a huge favour. ‘Fickle finger of fate’ formats that ambush people to denigrate, humiliate and upend their lives for the amusement of ghouls is really low-rent stuff. Media outlets flogging anti-social behaviours is hardly nation-building but I doubt Austereo shareholders or its Board of Directors are fussed on setting standards. 2DAY FM’s regular walks on the wild side have come at a huge cost to itself and the community. As King Edward VII’s Hospital Chairman said it’s truly appalling that executives and producers pre-recorded and transmitted material bound to cause grief and it’s similarly appalling they hung out young career aspirants to cop the blame. Ditch the format and ditch its architects – Jacintha Soldanha wasn’t the only one hoaxed by Austereo.

  45. zut alors

    Just heard an interview in which Greig declared that receiving the news about nurse Saldanha’s death was the worst call she’d ever had in her life.

    Really? Imagine how funny (?) it would have been and what an almighty laugh (?) everybody could’ve shared had it been a prank call to the prankster.

    How telling that 2-Day FM attempted unsuccessfully on five occasions to contact the nurses to request permission to air the pre-recorded conversations. By admission, the collective mental lightweights at the radio station knew they were obliged to have cleared it with the hapless participants – and decided to put it to air regardless.

  46. fractious

    @ David Hand (10 December 2012 at 6:07 pm) except for one points I agree.

    * It has not been established that the British press is any worse than the Australian subspecies. This is because this country has not run an independent (as far as can be) inquiry along the lines of Leveson. This is because the people who purport to run the place (state and federal governments) and those who actually run do (mass media owners, big business, MNCs) have too much self-interest (the latter) or in the case of the former are too spineless to challenge the hegemony of the latter.

  47. ulysses butterfly

    Re-read the NSW CA and HCA comments on the tort of deceit. The public may forget (don’t count on it – police and nurses have a traditional solidarity that goes back centuries) but the law won’t. Deceit, meet high priced tort lawyer(s) on a contingency fee, my only question is where will the case proceed – NSW or the UK. NSW if Today is lucky, UK if the family is lucky. Today can either pay the family or pay their lawyers and probably lose, and still pay the family.

  48. Matthew

    Bernard you argue that the prank had some public interest. That’s as may be, but it wasn’t intended to have any public interest, it was just intended to humiliate people for laughs. The fact that it may have had some accidental public interest doesn’t excuse the perpetrators one iota or constitute a “signal difference” from the equally disgusting actions of various other broadcasters. They couldn’t have foreseen this outcome, but they had no business publicly humiliating people for laughs. This shouldn’t _need_ to be regulated, it’s just basic decent behaviour, but if presenters aren’t capable of being decent human beings then bring on the regulation.

  49. floorer

    I understand exactly why BK wrote ” Lord Glenaurther” as such. One raised eyebrow at the poor colonial nurse…………the whole episode says more about the British class system than about the wallies at 2DayFM. The Battenbergs are every b****y where these days.

  50. floorer

    My first comment is modded, but anyway the other thing that stands out to me is the massive amounts of righteous indignation which I find harder to deal with than the odd troll. Bk is spot on about mob rule.

  51. geomac62

    What was a nurse doing manning the phones in the first place ? After all the nurse didn,t pass on info herself she connected the pranksters through to the attending nurse . I think laying the blame on the two DJs is drawing a long bow when they would have to get approval from the stations legal and management before broadcasting .
    Imagine if a few people were killed as a result of Jones inciting people with the Cronulla riots ? The result was bad enough but imagine a death ? It wasn,t an imagined harmless prank but a deliberate incitement . I would think any condemnation or penalty should consider this in context of Jones .

  52. POV 888

    When I first heard about the hoax I felt it was of poor taste and not at all funny. After news broke the nurse was dead of a suspected suicide, I was angry at the two hosts and had no sympathy for them, until I learned the hoax had been pre-recorded. This piece of information changed the dynamics and my perspective.

    Whoever made the executive decision to release the recording is accountable for this death(if the coroner finds the nurse did in fact take her own life). How devastated she must have felt to see death as the only solution.

    I watched the interview on ACA tonight and it was clear the two hosts were traumatised and deeply remorseful. However, this does not change the facts.

    Accountability I believe rests with the person/s who agreed to release the recording into the public arena.

    If the death is a verified suicide and it was my relative, I would seek justice in a court of law and want manslaughter charges laid against the radio stations management to be used as a precedent.

    On a final note, over the last few days, I’ve read, viewed and listened to media reports and I get the feeling there is a subculture of media protecting their own. Interesting when Police are accused of the same type of mentality by the media… an unavoidable human trait?

  53. ana joyce

    Tis a reflection of our health care workforce; more particularly the abhorrence by those born and bred in the “West” to care for the sick and accept the wages and conditions of the health system. Poor Jacintha Saldanha seems to have been part of that considerable overseas born workforce prepared to work in the hospital and health care system. Jacintha was probably less alert to the type of second grade impersonation and questionable humour broadcast by 2Day-FM duo. A born and bred Londoner would never have allowed such a bad bowl to pass through to the wicket.

  54. jmendelssohn

    I see that the hapless pranksters, who were simply following their employer’s directive (to act like prats on air and play stupid jokes on innocent victims), have lost their jobs as the program has been pulled.
    But Max Moore-Wilton is still the chairman of the board that has presided over this sorry excuse for a radio station.
    How come?

  55. Suzanne Blake

    The UK media is in no position to be critical of anyone.

    In any case the 2Day FM presenters have a water tight defence. Prince Charles gave it to them the day after and the day before the lady took her life.

  56. drsmithy

    Whoever made the executive decision to release the recording is accountable for this death(if the coroner finds the nurse did in fact take her own life). How devastated she must have felt to see death as the only solution.

    Clearly anyone prepared to suicide over something as insignificant as a minor role in a prank phone call was already on a hair trigger with far more serious issues in their lives.

    If the presenters or the station had been deliberately targeting her for pranks over an extended period of time, I can see how it might be reasonable to apportion them some of the blame.

    However, to charge some random person who was the final straw, simply unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time to break the camel’s back, is absurd.

  57. Suzanne Blake

    @ geomac62

    On that basis then, do we prosecute Garrett, Rudd and Gillard for the deaths of the 4 young men doing roof insulation during the failed Labor program

  58. geomac62

    Why is it you fail to understand or misrepresent others posts ? Plain and simple , if a penalty is given use it in the context of what others have got away with ,
    Now to your absurd assumption that 4 deaths were the fault of anyone other than the management of firms derelict in observing H&S laws , state and federal . By your strange logic a health minister is responsible for a death in a medical facility when a doctor fails to observe the guidelines for a hospital .
    Got the picture SB ? Post something relevant to the topic or give ED a bell , why don,t you give me a call , ring , ring .

  59. iggy648

    My bad @18. Of course it should have been POW not DOE.

  60. oldskool

    It was a prank call in bad taste, but it went further than its architects likely expected, not unlike the Chasers getting into fortress Sydney so easily.
    If you want to see what nasty prank calling is about re-acquaint yourselves with what Russel Brand and Jonathan Ross did to Andrew Sachs.
    I expect that we will hear (eventually) that the hospital came down on the poor woman like a ton of bricks (not unreasonably) and that is more likely the tipping point.

    Oh SB

    Seriously, specific incitement to violence by Jones is equal to the federal government creating a rebate, that businesses could profit from (whilst providing a service) that some shonks, acting illegally regarding state laws, put people in dangerous situations (for which there is training regarding acting safely) that ended in workplace related deaths.

    These are the same thing?


  61. phil morris

    If the code of conduct and the telecommunications act have been breached , can the radio station and its employees use the defense ,as it has ad nauseam that they could not have foreseen the consequences ,and thereby escape responsibilty ?

    I’ m not a lawyer , but laws are there in part to protect all parties are they not ?

    If the Acma code of conduct and the telecommunications act are not there to protect all parties from just this kind of case then what are they there for ? On the evidence so far , if the radio station had followed the rules and protocols and followed the lessons of the past ,nobody would be in the dock of public opinion .

    So , If I breach that law ,am Iresponsible for the consequences whatever they might be whether I intended them or not ?

    And what has absence of malice also offered as a defence got to do with avoiding responsibility ? With some exceptions , doctors do not maliciously injure their patients but are succesfully sued for negligence anyway .

    My prediction : nothing will change

  62. phil morris

    Its a bit narrow minded that posters here and elsewhere reason that the nurse who commited suicide must have been on the verge of it anyway and thus the prank phone call had little if anything to do with her death. It may be true. But there are alternative explanations.
    Not all suicides have depression as their basis. This is a predominantly western model of suicide.
    Were all japanese soldiers who commited hara kiri or seppuku depressed ? To understand Japanese seppuku you need to understand the culture in which it took place.

    Maybe in the nurses mind it was a serious matter of honour:from humble beginnings she comes to a point where she is looking after, among others ,sick members of the monarchy and she is
    ashamed beyond what we can comprehend , however minor the part.. And she was doing this at a considerable distance away from her family. Maybe she felt that she had dishonored her employers, her patients , her family . Or maybe she was furious with the australians who rang the hospital and made her look like a fool and her death was meant to draw attention to her plight.

    If this is the case she stood for something far more honorable than any DJ of the sort we are discussing will ever understand.

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