For many, there’s nothing more enticing than an invitation to join a lynch mob. Stirring primeval passions to boiling point, the public loves them. Pity, then, we can’t reprise the good old days, when hangings, drawings and quarterings, heads on spikes, dismembered limbs thrown to the dogs and all that were de rigueur.
If so, right now Aussie DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian would be quaking on the scaffold, listening to the song of the executioner’s tools being rasped to razor fineness.
There’s no question that blame is a done deal in the matter of the apparent suicide of Nurse Jacintha Saldanha – I have to say ‘apparent’ at this stage, since the police are labelling her death ‘unexplained’ until a coroner decides otherwise.
So, yes, it was all down to the pair of lame-brained presenters on Sydney radio station, 2Day FM, making a prank phone call.
For the benefit of anyone who’s been holidaying on Mars for the last couple of weeks and is unaware of the furore that it unleashed, the 5.30 a.m. call was made to the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for severe, recurrent morning sickness.
With Greig pretending to be The Queen and Christian cast as Prince Charles – authenticity guaranteed by the sound effects of corgis barking in the background – fatefully, as ill-fortune would have it, they reached a naive Jacintha manning the switchboard.
Thus, the time-bomb to unforeseen tragedy was set ticking…because, despite hospital protocol forbidding callers on the public number being put through to wards, so convinced was Jacintha that it was the Royals speaking (albeit with Aussie strain accents she didn’t detect), the nurse channelled the call through to a colleague, who gave them chapter and verse on the duchess’s condition.
Naturally, the DJs crowed like laughing jackasses on air about their hoax’s success. As it catapulted them into headlines worldwide, 2Day FM re-aired the tape so often, it must have bored their witless listeners even nearer the edge of witlessness.
‘This has been, by far, the best prank I’ve ever been involved in,’ boasted Christian, 30, in only his first week on the station. ‘It seemed so far-fetched to us, but it actually worked. It’s definitely a career highlight.’
By the following Friday, when news of Jacintha’s death made even more compelling, wretched reading, it had plunged him to a professional nadir hopefully he’ll never recover from.
So the finger-pointing, name-calling and rent-a-lynch mob mentality went viral, helped by such pillars of moral propriety as one-time wild child Kelly Osbourne, daughter of pop oddball Ozzy, tweeting her 2.5 million followers, ‘Mel Greig and Michael Christian should be put in prison for what they’ve done.’
Amen to that, Kel, most people will agree, some harking back to the good, old gory days of public executions, though it’s highly doubtful such severe punishment will be meted out.
Meanwhile, the ‘suits’ in charge of the radio station were too slow-witted to go into instant, media crisis management mode by offering their unqualified condolences to the 46-year-old Indian-born nurse’s family, unambiguously and ashamedly.
Instead, they made an equally lame-brained attempt to defend their indefensibly puerile DJs, eventually seeing sense – no doubt prompted by plummeting ad revenues – by axing the show, putting their now shocked shock-jocks on ice and coming over contrite as born-again moralists.
Greig and Christian, his usual brashness constrained, duly made their own apologies earlier this week, but these seemed pathetically too little too late. Moreover, for many observers the cringe-inducing emphasis on their personal suffering seemed to overshadow the grief of a bereaved family, not to say the unimaginable mental anguish that contributed to the demise of a good woman.
However ‘shattered, gutted, heartbroken’ the pair were, I, for one – and I wasn’t alone – was left wondering who was the real victim in all this.
Nevertheless, this tragedy deserves more forensic analysis than just hanging a couple of radio gaga twerps out to swing in the wind.
The stunt wasn’t pulled without ‘upstairs’ say-so, even in Oz, its reputation for on-air lawlessness legendary.
Abiding by the rules of Australia’s version of Ofcom, Britain’s broadcasting regulator, the radio station was obliged to get permission from the target of the prank before airing it and 2Day FM claims it tried, unsuccessfully, five times to get this.
If so, from whom and – more to the point – if they hadn’t received prior approval, why did they still give the stunt the go-ahead?
And, despite their rightful and righteous indignation over the tragedy, what of the hospital’s protocols regarding inquiries about celebs and members of the monarchy…
It begs the question: why was a nurse from a culture far distant from ours – albeit with four years experience at London’s foremost, VIP clinic – and manning the overnight switchboard not required to redirect all calls regarding the duchess’s health through to a Royal Protection Squad Officer, because surely there must have been one on duty?
Of course, this isn’t the first time gobby, ego-tripping radio jocks, some with the mental acumen of the barely potty-trained, have shoved the envelope too far.
Infamously, in October, 2008, Jonathan Ross and alleged funnyman Russell Brand created a voicemail message for veteran actor Andrew Sachs, making insulting, salacious jibes about the granddaughter of the Fawlty Towers star. It resulted in the BBC receiving 38,000 complaints; at least Brand walked away from his BBC2 show and Ross’s contract wasn’t renewed.
Even The Queen and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have been had by on-air pranksters, though never has one resulted in such tragic consequences as the hoax call to Jacintha Saldanha.
Of course, Greig and Christian couldn’t foresee the consequences of their inanity shattering a life. However, if they have a shard of decency about them, they’d quit and take up a sheep-shearing, as will anyone else who shares culpability.
However, that probably includes many of us, too, the very people who are now fully-fledged members of the lynch mob, baying for the blood of the errant DJs.
Which is why I refuse to join in the chorus call for their heads, figuratively or literally.
Because, without us – the fickle audience – who get vicarious pleasure from listening to those who’ve deliberately fashioned cruelty into a comic art form, such morons as Greig and Christian wouldn’t exist.