On Friday, presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian must have felt on top of the world. Having only recently been paired by SCA management to host the Hot 30 they were hoping to make a name for themselves and this stunt was working a treat for them. Their names and faces were suddenly filling columns here, in the UK and beyond.
As pranks go, at worst it was up there with streaking at the cricket. For many it’s an annoyance, for some comic relief. But to the target audience of yobbos on the hill, it’s an act of defiance by one of their own with the audacity to mock the establishment.
If that’s the kind of image they were looking to create for themselves, then it was being etched in stone.
It’s important to note here that Mel & MC’s prank was pre-recorded and passed on to the SCA legal team for vetting, as much of the Today network’s more edgy content is these days. So it would be reasonable for the duo to feel relieved of responsibility in regards to the segment’s suitability for broadcast. Lawyers are, after all, trained to foresee a range of consequences beyond the ken of mere jocks.
On Friday, it seemed that Mel & MC had ticked all the boxes. No real harm had been done. There were no topless photos of the Duchess. No embarrassing information had come out. They hadn’t physically got past security, into Buckingham Palace to sit on the Queen’s bed.
All they had done was to get a phone call through to the nurse looking after Kate Middleton who divulged the earth shattering news that her patient had had an uneventful night and would be fit to take visitors later in the morning.
Even Prince Charles seemed to have laughed it off. The duo’s only concern was what they were going to come up with next week that would top it.
And then the unthinkable happened. In the early hours of Saturday morning, One of the nurses who had been unwittingly involved in the prank was found dead in her quarters near the hospital.
Then the media turned feral. If Mel & MC thought they had publicity before, it was nothing compared to the tsunami of print that engulfed them now. A headline in the UK’s MailOnline charged them with having blood on their hands.
Where Scotland Yard were still investigating and warning the public that jumping to conclusions would be unhelpful, the public posse was in no mood to listen to reason. They had found the culprits, had their trial and were working on the execution.
A torrent of abuse on twitter forced Mel & MC to shut their accounts down but the 2DayFM facebook page remains open to all comers. The latest of over 21,000 messages reads: Alex Ladi I’m disgusted. I hope these people are sacked, Rhys holleran included. A life has gone because you wanted a laugh, or a scoop. Hope you’re happy. Hate this radio station. Will never listen again. Will never buy products that advertise on it.
Of course, Mr Ladi, like most of the abusers is happy to make a damning accusation without a skerrick of evidence to support it and without any concern for the feelings of those he is targeting, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he is doing worse to them than they did to her and that his actions could conceivably result in a similar tragedy.
Word is that both Mel Greig and Michael Christian are absolutely devastated, are currently under medication and receiving counseling. We might be too if we felt that we had been virtually accused of murder with a lynch mob outside our door..
Indeed they are shattered by the turn of events which, as SCA CEO Rhys Holleran has said, “could not have been reasonably foreseen.” If not by SCA’s legal team, then certainly not Mel & MC.
But what can be foreseen is that this tragic incident has the potential to add to the tragedy that has already occurred.
Among the first to lend his support to the pair is beyondblue chairman and former Victorian Premier, Jeff Kennett who told ABC Radio, “When they did this they had no intention to cause harm, it was a harmless prank.
“Now they will be under extraordinary pressure and I just hope that they get our support and that their employer provides them with the professional support to help them get through what will be a terrible few weeks,” Mr Kennett told ABC radio.
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has also shown sympathy for the pair telling reporters the two radio hosts must be feeling “terrible”.
“I don’t imagine in any way that those who were engaged in the typical FM radio stunt would have thought it would lead to this. I think there are some people today who are suffering, not just the family of the nurse but those who in some way were involved with what appears to be the trigger for this tragedy,” Mr O’Farrell said.
The editorial in today’s Telegraph also supports the pair with the firm statement “RADIO hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian did not kill British nurse Jacintha Saldanha.”
To the British press who have been on their best behavior while awaiting the results of The Leveson inquiry, this story has been manna from heaven. Let’s crucify a couple of larrikins from Australia who were instrumental in the death of valuable member of British society. And remember, the segment was broadcast in Australia. Few in Britain would have know anything about it had the media in that country not sensationalised the whole event out of all proportion.
While the coincidence of the poor woman’s death, just days after the prank, provides a seductive case that the two are linked, at this stage it is just that. A coincidence – one that needs to be forensically tested before it can be called fact.
But so too does the question of why a 46 year old professional nurse who is trained to deal with all kinds of trauma, who has two children to think of, would find life no longer worth living because she was duped into putting through a phone call to another nurse who told the pranksters the unremarkable news that the Duchess was asleep and had had an uneventful night.