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Media abuse? Australian radio’s tragic crank call

A second shoe has dropped on one of the worst incidents in Australian radio history. Media owner Southern Cross Austereo has announced the cancellation of the “Hot 30” show from 2Day FM (104.1)—”Sydney’s Number 1 Hit Music Station.” That’s the program whose hosts decided to have a little live crank call fun in December. They put on their best hoity-toity imitations of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles in a bid to get a London hospital to disclose the status of the morning sickness afflicted Dutchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

It worked, unfortunately. Indian born nurse Jacintha Saldanha put them through to someone who spilled the beans about Middleton. Everybody laughed at the interview that went around the world. As for Saldanha—she hung herself three days later. Suddenly “Hot 30” hosts found that they, and not their prank, had gone viral.

They were sorry, Mel Greig and Michael Christian tearfully told Australia’s Today/Tonight television show. “I remember my first question was, ‘Was she [Saldanha] a mother’?” Greig confessed.

The answer to that question was yes—of two children. This excruciatingly personal disaster has reverberated to India, whose main newspapers are regularly following the story, and across the United Kingdom, where a member of the House of Lords has called the incident “media abuse”:

The Saldanha incident represents “the pinnacle of the abuse of power by the media over the individual,” declared House of Lords Peer Swarj Paul in January. Britain is, of course, home of Milly Dowler, the murdered teenager whose voicemail was accessed by reporters for Rupert Murdoch’s now deceased News of the World tabloid during the period that she was identified as missing.

Paul urged implementation of the Leveson Inquiry, which called for a state recognized, self-regulating body for the British press.

“There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist,” Part I of the document warned. “This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained.”


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