Sunday, December 9, 2012

jock shock

On the surface, I wouldn’t think there is anything terribly wrong with ringing a hospital and, in a voice one would think not remotely like the Queen’s, asking questions.

Compared to Murdoch’s phone tapping invasions of privacy, it seems like nothing.

That a nurse appears to have taken her life over this business is appalling. I don’t doubt that DJs Mel and Michael feel like crap today – after all, their names are neither Kyle nor Sandilands.

My problem is with the response of two key people in all this.

Let’s start with the response of Mr Beyond Blue himself – Jeff Kennett.

Kennett makes the predictable claims that pranks and jokes are part of the Australian make-up, just good fun, and that no harm was intended. His response has a positive in that it expresses some concern for the welfare of Mel and Michael – and I think that is appropriate.

Interestingly, the Hun article which quotes Kennett goes on to quote the Hun’s usual psychology expert, Michael Carr-Gregg.
“suicide [is] never simple… Eighty percent of people who commit suicide worldwide have mental health problems…When you have a psychological gun that’s loaded it doesn’t take much to pull the trigger… It might have been something else…”

What he says is quite right and also appropriate.
But I think they are both missing a point as important as the welfare of the pranksters themselves.


The important point is highlighted by the response of the radio network’s boss. The screaming headline in the Sunday Hun seems to summarise his attitude quite well:

One might well ask “what rules”? Would the network boss be someone who has, at least once, bemoaned the fact we are living in a Nanny State? Well, here’s a good chance for someone to take a leaf out of the Cherry Tree Story and say “The consequences are unintended, we are deeply sorry, but we cannot tell a lie, we did it and we accept responsibility for doing the wrong thing.”
Maybe finishing off with something pro anti-suicide efforts would show that they have reflected on the matter a little.

Phone pranks are not inherently evil, but before the Nanny State there was a thing called duty of care. Before the demise of formal religion there were rites of passage that highlighted the need to accept a duty of care.

A duty of care asks us to think before we open our gobs. If I say A, what will be B?

Pranking is not a generic joke which takes its humour from the acknowledgment of a universal truth.
[What did the bald man say when he was given a comb for Christmas? I’ll never part with this.]

Pranking is not a joke on the teller.
[Norman Gunston, when told he should use an electric razor, says “I do!”]

Pranking is pure schadenfreude. It isn’t the laugh we get when we feel relief only after we discover the person who slipped on a banana peel is okay. Pranking is about having a laugh at someone else’s expense. It is an attempt by one person to make the other look a prat.
I have my own reasons for not finding pranking funny – lots of reasons. It’s not something I do, or take kindly to. It’s not something I find amusing. But other people enjoy it and it is not inherently evil.

I doubt anyone – certainly not me – could have foreseen the result of this particular prank. But what could we learn from this?

Responsibility. If we don’t want to live in a Nanny State then we must make our own actions considered. If something goes wrong we should gather some insight from it.

The Royal Family is “fair game”. But the Royal Family is an institution, not a person. The Royal Family is fair game, but its members should not be fair game with no hesitation at all.
The Royal Family is fair game but, most of the time, the Royal Family is surrounded by people who are not members so much as innocent bystanders.

A comedian might suggest Prince Charles has been given a comb for Christmas and sworn he would never part with it. Charles would probably find it funny or not depending on his existing relationship with the comedian.

If I rang someone like Bob Hawke and using the same voice as Mel claimed to be Kate’s Mother in Law, someone like Bob Hawke would just dismiss me as a ****ing idiot and give me a mouthful.
Goodo. It would seem a safe thing to do because I think I know the man a little. There is a pre-existing relationship of sorts.

Jacintha Saldanha had no existing relationship with Mel and Michael. She was an anonymous cog in a big wheel but a cog which had a huge personal and legal obligation to her patient, and was publicly humiliated.

Beyond my general opinion of pranking, I don’t believe Mel and Michael committed a crime or should be punished. But as they probably [hopefully] realised by now, they did make a mistake. If they are decent people we don’t need to punish them because nothing we might dish out could be worse than the punishment they will dish out to themselves.

But… if we don’t want to live in a Nanny State it wouldn’t hurt for us to hesitate occasionally, or give a little more thought to what we are doing. It’s not enough to say people who commit suicide are usually on the edge anyway. This does not make the result okay.

When we ask “If I say A, what will be B?” we need to remember that we can’t presume to know who is on the edge.


  1. I do believe we try to teach our children that pranks are wrong, as is bullying, as is ____. It should have consequences. We have too many politicos and media and people with $$ that too often think they are or should be above the consequences. While I don't agree with consequences to "make an example of them" they certainly should not be defended either (nor those that came up with the idea to begin with).

    1. MT, the good thing is that a majority of people are like you, and understand the value of teaching children good values - especially at home.
      But as you note, there are people who think they are or should be above consequences or, worse still, don't think about them at all. Unfortunately, these are the people setting standards, and are the only role models for those who get little guidance at home.

  2. I seldom watch the news anymore, but I did hear a couple of days ago that someone said they were the Queen and called the hospital and a nurse responded as one should respond if the Queen called. It sounded like no big deal to me. But now from what I gather here that same nurse killed herself?
    If that's correct, why would she kill herself over something so stupid? Somehow, I'm missing the point here. Ah well...
    Or, did someone else kill themselves?

    1. Sorry Rubye - I should have at least provided a summary:
      Some Australian radio jocks rang the hospital where Kate Middleton was staying, and pretended to be the queen. The voice they used sounded nothing like her maj, but the receptionist put the call through to another person who told all. This is a bigger deal in Commonwealth countries, and especially so in England. The English press are as [insert adjective of choice] than your National Enquirer, only vicious. What was a small "joke" became bigger than Ben Hur. Even Prince Charles made a joke about radio stations. The receptionist who put the call through was found dead, presumably having topped herself.

      Why would she do it? Professionally, if she had been the one to reveal secrets about a patient, she made a bad mistake. That it was about the Royal Family compounded the mistake - especially in a hospital they trust to protect their privacy. It would have been enormously embarrassing for her.

      We have no way of knowing what anyone might have said to her personally following the prank.

      Was it worth killing herself over - especially when she wasn't the one who had revealed private information? No. But... when people are ready to tip over the edge their sense of proportion is badly compromised, and a little bit of stress can be unbearable. It was probably the straw that broke the camel's back.

      The radio pranksters couldn't believe the call was even put through: To them the voice was so obviously NOT the Queen's. Just one of the things they didn't think about is that not everyone was born or raised in the commonwealth, and familiar with her maj's voice.

      My point is that although they meant no harm, the truth is that what supposedly makes a prank funny is that it is about humiliation. While I don't personally like pranking, it would be fair to hope people recognise it is possible to go too far. Saying that what they did was legal does not make a wrong right.

    2. Oh god, I don't know. Sometimes I think we've gotten too rigid and pc about humor. From my perspective, it seems the radio people were simply doing their job in trying to make people laugh about the people who have some power over them. If anyone is to be blamed, which I think shouldn't happen, then the entire listening public is also responsible for taking part in this kind of humor. Bullies get away with what they do because those around them support them in what they do.

      Like you say, it must have been the last straw and more than likely her superiors at the hospital are more to blame than the pranksters. It seems the radio people were trying to humiliate the queen more than the hospital employee.

    3. There are certainly other radio and tv pranksters around who are totally cruel and more anything-goes-insensitive. And I agree, this stuff must get ratings for station management to demand it.

  3. I reckon there is more to this suicide than meets the eye because nobody is prepared to tell the real story as yet. In answer to your question on your last post Dad repeated the same word many times when he was alive because he could speak Welsh fluently.

    1. Yes, Windsmoke, I'd be keen to know just who said or did what, though we may never know.

  4. I'm an anti-pranker - quite possibly for similar reasons to you - but also agree about personal and professional responsibility, starting from the top of the food chain. And that, in my opinion, is where the problem lies. Hiding behind spin and lies, for example, does NOT encourage the impressionable members of any society to develop any kind of cause/effect consciousness.

    But I can't change everyone else, so I start with me.

    1. Yet again, Red, something I should put on my wall - I can't change everyone else.

  5. I am so pleased you wrote about the matter. I could not because my mind is very conflicted. This was a posh hospital, which treats posh people. How did the call slip through? The hospital itself must take some responsibility. It seems anyone could have rung up and found out the condition of Lady Cholmondy.

    The grandising immature male host of the radio show is a self serving prat and hardly worthy of our care.

    The recording went to management and through a legal checker, and then went to air. The people who made the call did no harm. Management that approved it going to air did.

    I wish someone had said to the nurse involved, lighten up hon. It ain't the end of the world. Yesterday's news. But as Windsmoke suggested, there might have been other underlying issues.

    Pranks can be fun, for everyone, but you do need to choose your mark carefully.

    I expect everyone who appeared on Candid Camera had veto over their appearance, if the scenes weren't actually staged.

    Messy business, but the radio guys got their call through, to their surprise. It was then up to management as to whether it went to air.

    1. Andrew, I doubt you are alone in feeling conflicted. How did the call slip thru? Perhaps the receptionist was over-awed by the situation and assumed the call would be filtered further up the chain. But yes, this particular hospital we would expect to have a strict procedure for vetting such calls. The weakest link and all that.

      I never thought about the call being 'legalled' but that makes sense. Perhaps the djs are equally as responsible as the receptionist, and again, it should have been stopped further up the chain. We might expect it of the hospital but not of media prats.

      Now that you mention it, legal scrutiny is motivated by the need for self-preservation. In contrast, a duty of care is about putting other people first. There are two lines that might be crossed, but perhaps one ought to be more important than the other.

      Now, flashback to pedal TV and Candid Camera. The ONLY prank I recall was some man with a fake plaster cast on his foot, struggling with heavy packages. Some people offered to help, and others didn't. It always puzzled me that the inconsiderate a-holes would give permission to make their poor behaviour public. Fame is a sick mistress. As pranks go, this one was further behind the line than most seem to be these days. As you say, choose your mark carefully. Each case on its merits.

      As for 'lighten up hon' you are right in the sense that she was obviously [in hindsight] distressed. What we don't know is what was said to her by other people trying to cover their own arses. It was possibly the very opposite of counselling.

      Unfortunately, for someone depressed and near suicide, lighten up would not cut the mustard. Depression is, for a depressed person, usually a dirty little secret; a cause for shame. The people who interact with a depressed person are not likely to know there is a problem if it is well concealed. But yes, we do wish it had turned out differently.

    2. Quite so, lighten up does help a depressed person at all, does it. Sad business, nevertheless. I think I might cheer myself with You Tube and Candid Camera now.

  6. I've never liked 'prank' calls or the 'zany' breakfast crews that most FM radio stations seem to employ.

    I think that, despite getting legal clearance, such prankers (what does it rhyme with?) should ALWAYS check that the major prankee (the nurse) is okay, has given permission to let the thing to go to air AND gets to have her say at the end of it.

    1. Yep: zany is to entertainment as handyman's dream is to the housing market.

      Your comment about rhyme is the only smile I've uncovered in any of this so far.

      I guess the legal clearance at this end was supposed to make up for a failure to get permission? In this case, to paraphrase someone whose name is never mentioned in sane circles, the poor women was stomped on by a conga line of a'holes.

  7. I think it's such a controversial happening, that to bring it right back down to the basics in that ..well I'm not 100% sure but isn't it actually against the law to impersonate someone for the reasons of acquiring information. If so there's a case to answer. As for the nurse, she must have been on the cliff edge, unfortunate timing all round. I do absolutely agree with you FC in that people should really think a lot more about the consequences of what comes out of their mouths, before it actually comes out!!

    1. The legal bit is interesting, Grace. In amongst the hype I think there was a suggestion that in NSW under the Privacy Act it is against the law to tape a conversation without getting consent first.

      Anyway, horrible all 'round.