When news broke about the suspected suicide of a nurse at a London hospital at the centre of a radio prank, I immediately hung my media head in shame. What a tragic end to what was meant to be a bit of fun.
The nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, had answered the phone at King Edward VII Hospital when 2Day FM hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian from Australia rang, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles asking for an update on pregnant Kate Middleton's condition. She put them through to another nurse, who gave out sensitive information.
The radio duo are now in hiding and receiving counselling, having been confronted with a barrage of abuse. But having had time to let the news sink in and read the reaction, I can't help but feel the backlash is a complete over-reaction.
There's now talk about a need for legislation to ensure such prank calls don't cross the line. Radio stations have been playing pranks on people for decades and it's up to them to monitor the tone of their jokes.
Yes, there's a difference between playing a joke on someone and humiliating/bullying them. I don't believe these radio hosts set out to humiliate this nurse.
Yes, it's terribly sad Miss Saldanha died but before we go slating the radio DJs, find out all the facts. No one knows the mental health of the nurse. Is it possible this was simply the last straw?
It's also rich of the British media to criticise Australians. The Brits are shockers for suspect media ethics. And besides, radio hosts aren't journalists. They are entertainers.
What can be learned from this horror case is radio stations should think twice before broadcasting pranks. The hosts should have been aware that had their prank worked, someone's job would have been on the line.
Maybe radio stations need to check with those who are involved to ensure they are happy with their mistake being made public.
If it's all in good fun, their reaction might surprise.