The furor is building over the death of British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who fell for a prank call by Australian radio hosts while caring for the Duchess of Cambridge in a London hospital. There are now threats of a lawsuit, a review by regulators and a stampede of advertisers fleeing the radio station at the centre of the prank.
Southern Cross Austereo, owners of the Sydney station 2Day FM, has faced a barrage of complaints from listeners and advertisers since Ms. Saldanha’s death of an apparent suicide Friday. On Tuesday, she fell for a hoax call from two 2Day FM announcers, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who impersonated the Queen and were given information about the condition of the Duchess who was in the King Edward VII Hospital for treatment for acute morning sickness.
Several companies have pulled ads from the radio station and on Saturday a company spokeswoman said all advertising would be halted over the weekend. “We have suspended advertising at least until Monday on that radio station in Sydney out of respect to advertisers until business issues can really be addressed,” spokeswoman Sandy Kay told reporters in Australia. “Advertisers obviously have panicked. I’m sure it will all settle down.” The two announcers have also been suspended indefinitely.
Rhys Holleran, the broadcaster’s chief executive, said that while the company was shocked by Ms. Saldanha’s death, he did not believe the station did anything illegal. During a press conference in Sydney he told reporters that hoax phone calls are “not just part of one radio station or one network or one country – they’re done worldwide.” “This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it,” he said. “I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they’re completely shattered.”
Australia’s broadcast regulator said it was looking into the phone call and planned to seek more information from the station.
On Saturday the chairman of the hospital, Lord Glenarthur, sent a letter to the chairman of the radio station's owner, calling the hoax foolish and appalling.
“King Edward VII's Hospital cares for sick people, and it was extremely foolish of your presenters even to consider trying to lie their way through to one of our patients, let alone actually make the call,” Lord Glenarthur said in the letter.
"Then to discover that, not only had this happened, but that the call had been pre-recorded and the decision to transmit approved by your station's management, was truly appalling. The immediate consequence of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients. The longer term consequence has been reported around the world and is, frankly, tragic beyond words. I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated."
Some have come to the defence of the announcers, noting that the Royal Family did not complain about the call after it occurred. Prince Charles even joked about it Thursday. The hospital also said it did not sanction Ms. Saldanha for putting the call through. But the vast majority of reaction around the world has been scathing, with thousands of comments flooding into the radio station and regulators. Most have called for the announcers to be fired and some have said police should investigate the call. The King Edward VII hospital is also said to be considering legal action.
Ms. Saldanha, 46, lived in Bristol with her husband and two teenaged children. During the workweek she stayed at a hospital residence, where her body was found Friday morning. Officials at Scotland Yard have yet to confirm she killed herself, but they said the death was not suspicious and a coroner will make a determination later this week.
Her death received front-page news in Britain on Saturday and raised more questions about regulation of the media. The British media is already facing calls for a new regulator and tougher penalties for breaches of privacy.