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Tragic Outcome Of “Royal” Prank On 2Day-FM …

  • December 11th, 2012
  • Posted by 7thmin

king-edward-vii-resize-hospital.jpg two-day-fm-2day-fm.jpg COMMENTARY: A scan of media treatment of the London hospital prank, by two radio DJs in Sydney, and its tragic aftermath, generates as many new questions and talking points as it resolves.

Last week (4.12.12) the two announcers, on the commercial station 2Day FM, phoned the King Edward VII Hospital (picture) pretending to be members of the Royal family, asking after the health of the Duchess of Cambridge, nee Kate Middleton.

The wife of Prince William had been taken to hospital with morning sickness.

The ward nurse was heard on radio, nervous but efficient, telling the essentials (doing well, comfortable night, visitors permitted at certain hours, Ma’am), to “Queen Elizabeth” with a slightly Australianised accent, a patrician male voice, as her husband or son Charles, and the sound of a barking “Royal corgi”.

The station known for producing some crass fare in the past says that it did try several times to get back to the hospital staff involved, but in the meantime it let the recorded segment go to air.

A second nurse, who had put through the call to her colleague, died on Friday; she is believed to have taken her own life.

Waves of talk

Few would be surprised at the uproar of commentary that instantly followed, headed by a torrent of opinion on social media, most of it initially condemning the radio announcers in vehement terms.

More considered opinions have also seen the light of day, like those of an ethics columnist this week in a Toronto tabloid: “When bad things happen, there’s a deep human need for explanation: ‘How could such an innocent action produce such a bad conclusion?’”

It was the shock of a jape gone very wrong; the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, rightly named it a tragedy.

Some observations or questions:

Media reports have the person who died, going back to her flat in London, alone on a wintry day, her home and family being at Bristol. It’s been established this was a migrant person from India, 46, though well established in the new country, with her immediate family there and holding the job at the hospital for four years.

The hospital has spoken of a valued employee well thought-of by other staff.


Not much more has come up, as to the actual back-story on this tragic event.

Had the poor woman been ragged and teased over the incident? The phone conversation was well-publicised at the time, though the BBC would not broadcast it. It can be imagined, somebody in that situation might tell friends she had spoken with the Queen, only to be very embarrassed shortly afterwards. Did she have any medical history that might have contributed to what took place?

That is the kind of information discreet strangers would not normally demand to have, any more than they would shoot their mouths off on Facebook giving contentious opinions.

Spokespersons for the hospital have been quoted, averring that the nurses were not chastised at all, and that they were offered support.

Yet the hospital’s staff support practices are under public review; a Member of Parliament has been in the news saying nobody from the organisation was sent to see the deceased person’s family.

In the background, popular mythology has British hospitals these days, being seen  askance, as excessively in the grip of lay managerialists, setting “bench-marks” and “KPIs”, seriously harassing the medical and para-medical staff.

In such a climate of opinion, well might King Edward VII Hospital give out assurances it is attending to “work-life balance” for staff; it has indeed initiated and contributed to a relief fund for the bereaved family.

Broadcasting practice

It’s been quickly established that the radio station had an obligation to let the people know they were being recorded, or at least to get their consent for the recording to be broadcast.

(The pioneering American television program “Candid Camera” made it part of the show: somebody would be made a fool-of, and then they’d be told, in vision, they were “on candid camera” – and everybody would laugh).

It’s acknowledged that the announcers last week gave the decision to broadcast to their management.

The issue calls in both Australian broadcast regulations (protocols for recording or broadcasting live without the talent being told), and the law generally, referring to recordings of telephone conversations.

British police are known to be making inquiries with their Australian counterparts, for reasons not too evident; there is also recourse to the common law, e.g. with stories being floated today that the Duchess might sue.

Some talk has been put out that announcers as entertainers, can’t be treated as firmly in these matters, as journalists doing the news; or that the particular announcers were “young”, “inexperienced”, only broadcasting “off peak time.”

However it’s a fact that in Australia, at 18, you are old enough to vote, legally take strong drink, own property, and if you get off-side with legitimate authority, take it on the chin.

The two Sydney announcers have been showing contrition, in television interviews; their show has been axed; their station is facing questions from the regulator; it has banned all further pranks; it’s had advertisers drop out, and has suspended all other advertising; for a day or two its shares were down sharply on the stock exchange.

Cultural disjunction

Most people in England, despite the notoriousness of the class system, appear to love the Royal family and want to curtsy – to be seen showing overt respect.

Many people in Australia are the same, but many will not take it seriously, and think the whole idea of a dressed-up aristocracy, Lords and Ladies, is grand material for a joke.

When the hospital chairman came out with a complaint to the Sydney radio station, he turned out to be a Lord, (Simon Mark Arthur, 4th Baron Glenarthur).

That might be wholly unremarkable at the Northern end of the world, but note-worthy in the South, and would be a factor in the unlikely event that the hospital, in its strategy, was addressing itself primarily to Australian publics.

Did the hospital make a prompt complaint, before the death on Friday? The radio station’s reply states that the formal letter from Lord Glenarthur, saying the broadcast had been “appalling”, was dated Saturday 8.12.12.

The letter appeared in news media on the weekend; if distributed by the hospital itself, a sign that by then it had decided to go into a public communications management mode.

Was the broadcast funny at the start?

There remains the other, now very difficult proposition, that at the time many were laughing.

Poking fun at “naff nobility”, as said, was in the air; and that has a long history, hence the song:

All you young dukies and duchesses
Take heed now of what I do say
Mind all is your own as you touchesses
Or you’ll join us in Botany Bay

In Australia, the place the servants got away to, and got away with it, there will be jokes.

Earlier last week, Prince Charles himself was seen and heard on television, saying he liked the idea of “grandfatherhood”, and quipping that he might have been mistaken “for a radio station”.

The man looked to be accepting a funny side to it.

Elsewhere, a definite tinge of anti-Australian can be picked up in the commentaries being made, even before Friday; or at least it could easily be read that way in Sydney; but who can be bothered going back to joshing over currency-lads, convicts, pommies, and all that?

It is time for maturity.

In 2012 journalists and other media workers handle cases of suicide discreetly, not reporting them except where the sufferer has been a public figure, or a serious public issue is raised. (The question of whether, and how to report, remains under earnest discussion).

The use of the name and photograph of the person who died this time can be defended, but warrants more discussion.

It is routine for the newer generation of journalists especially, to get credentialed training and advice on how to handle such issues.

For example the excellent Response Ability program for suicide prevention, based at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health in New South Wales, has for at least a decade been patiently disseminating up-dated, evidence-based materials among journalists and offering resources to journalism schools.

As in the present case, any reporting on suicide in Australia is most often accompanied by a notice providing contacts for the caring agencies, or Beyond Blue, the specialised support service for sufferers of depression.

If you or someone you know may be at risk of suicide contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36, or Salvo Care Line 1300 36 36 22.


Southern Cross Austereo (2Day FM), Sydney, Letter to Lord Glenarthur, 9.12.12., (9.12.12).

Ken Gallinger, “Ethically speaking: Blaming DJs for nurse’s death simplistic and vindictive”,, Toronto, 10.12.12.–blaming-djs-for-nurse-s-death-simplistic-and-vindictive, (11.12.12).

The Independent, London, “Full text of letter from King Edward VII Hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur to 2day FM parent company Southern Cross Austereo”, 8.12.12., (11.12.12).

AP/Sun-Herald, Melbourne, “Prince Charles laughs off prank as Kate Middleton released from hospital”, 7.12.12., (11.12.12).