Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Monday, 10 December 2012

"Shattered... gutted.... heartbroken..."

The words chosen by one of the Australian radio hosts who perpetrated last week's hoax phone call are, I think, unintentionally revealing.

The phrase is, admittedly, taken out of context, but it looks very much as if, now his thoughtless action has had consequences far beyond those he envisaged, his first concern appears to be for himself and how he is affected by them.

The victims, meanwhile, are relegated to an afterthought: "...and obviously, you know, our deepest sympathies are with the families and the friends of all those affected."

Given the striking linguistic contrast, it would take a generous soul not to see the hallmarks of a management briefing in the formal expression so awkwardly tacked on after the visceral reactions.

This is, effectively, the vocabulary of a hurt child; if he truly feels guilt or remorse, he has couched it in the egocentric terminology of his generation, placing the emphasis firmly on his own suffering.

His excuse - 'everyone does it'  - is childish too; an abdication of individual responsibility which he serves up with the inevitable accompaniment; 'we didn't mean any harm'. It may well be true, but it's a sad confession that they lacked the intelligence or maturity to see anything wrong at all in making a joke phone call to a hospital at 5.30am.

Of course, Mel Greig and Michael Christian do have reason to feel sorry for themselves; a hail of extreme abuse has rained down on them, while we have seen little trace of the senior staff member who apparently approved the tape for broadcast despite no consent having been received from the hospital.

I have to admit to an intense dislike of prank phone calls; inviting a crowd to laugh at the humiliation of an unsuspecting victim is far too much like bullying for my liking. The popularity of such antics has a depressing lowest-common-denominator air, appealing to the baser instincts of the audience for a cheap laugh.

As Mel Grieg explained: "We just wanted to be hung up on. We wanted to be hung up on with our silly voices and wanted a 20-second segment to air of us doing stupid voices."

That is, of course, exactly what the radio station hired her for; this 30-year-old woman has spent over a decade being paid to behave, talk and think like a child, so it's hardly surprising that she and her co-host demonstrate a clear lack of maturity.

There were, undoubtedly, many mistakes made here. From what I have seen and heard of this pair, I doubt they even considered the time difference that meant they would be intruding on tired nurses at the end of a long night shift.

More significantly, though, they seem to have lacked the imagination to understand that, while radio prank calls are, by all accounts, a well-known practice in their own locality, a call made across the world might well be answered up by someone who was ignorant of the phenomenon and unable to recognize their 'silly voices'.

For the next few months at least, it's likely that Australian radio stations will think very carefully about allowing presenters to make prank calls, especially to foreign destinations where the reactions might be less predictable than at home.


  1. "what would have been the result of such a call being taken in the Tokyo hospital supervising the pregnancy of Japan's Crown Princess?"

    I imagine that the hospital would have taken some elementary precaution to check that the person calling was in fact who they claimed to be - like, for instance, looking at the incoming caller number: HM probably doesn't call from an Australian code.

    And that is why, in fact, these unfortunate fools should not be blamed for this debacle; such astonishing lack of control, process or forethought at a hospital treating such a patient is, well, astonishing.

  2. PM, good point; though it's surely not impossible that even a Japanese hospital might inadvertently lower its guard at times of day when it would be reasonable to expect only emergency calls coming in.

    I've rephrased the paragraph slightly to emphasis the idea of what the consequences would be were such a call to get through.

    The 'unfortunate fools' as you so accurately describe them, lacked any sense of what their activities might lead in terms of disciplinary action against the nurses - what I find unpleasant is their blatant triumphalism afterwards at having duped two honest and well-meaning professionals.

  3. Immaturity..? In two deejays, you say?! Unthinkable!


  4. True, Julia; as well criticise a dog for sniffing lampposts - it's just the nature of the beast.

    But it's an interesting modern analogy to living and dying by the sword; the mass denunciation on twitter is the obverse of their own use of the medium to celebrate their exploitation of the nurses' goodwill.

  5. The Duchess had a very rough time with a potentially very dangerous condition. One can only imagine the effect on her nearest. Not something for silly pranks. Also, the Mail and The Independent both had very tasteless cartoons.

  6. Demetrius, the tendency to treat the royal family as zoo animals means that there is likely to be little respite from the media. I feel desperately sorry for them - even before the death of Nurse Saldanha, the media frenzy over the hoax must have been a very unwelcome intrusion.

    I have every sympathy for the Duchess; I can vouch at first hand for the debilitating effects of hyperemesis, which is difficult enough to cope with on its own.


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