The behaviour of the media is set to again come under the microscope following a radio prank by announcers of Sydney Radio station 2DayFM who, while impersonating the Queen and Prince Charles in a call to the hospital hosting the Duchess of Cambridge, convinced the hospital’s switchboard to forward the call to a nurse who unwittingly offered details of the Duchess’ morning sickness condition to the caller. It has been suspected that the subsequent public outrage may have contributed to the suicide of the call receiver nurse Jacintha Saldanha. As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, in an attempt to gain information on the admission of the Duchess of Cambridge to the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, 2Day FM hosts Mel Craig and Michael Christian called the hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. They later claimed that their poor English accents were supposed to have been the main thrust of the prank. Ms Saldintha put the call through to another nurse, who subsequently revealed the details of the Duchess’ illness. In response to the hoax being replayed internationally, the hospital CEO expressed his “embarrassment” at the breach of telephone and security protocol, while it made headlines around the world and with the UK press denouncing the act entirely.
As website news.com reported, Ms Saldintha was found dead at the nurse’s headquarters two days following the release of the call. Police have launched an inquest into the suicide note she left and whether she was disciplined by the hospital following the call. Despite the fact that the station’s owner, Southern Cross Austereo’s boss stated that the DJs had not “broken any laws” nor intended any malice, this tragic situation has brought into question the far-reaching repercussions of hoax phone calls and what unforeseeable consequences might result. The hospital denies the station’s claim that repeated attempts had been made to inform them of the airing of the call.
While it is unclear as to whether any breaches have occurred from this current incident, 2DayFM has not in the past been without attention from the industry regulator, Australian Communication and Media Authority’s (ACMA) for breaches of the Commercial Radio’s Code of Practice. The Examiner reported that in May this year, the ACMA found that 2DayFM had breached the ''decency provision'' of the broadcasting Code when breakfast presenter Kyle Sandilands called a female journalist a ''fat slag'' and a ''piece of shit'' on air. The policy of adopting controversial entertainment content clearly comes with a reputational risk for the station and its owners.