Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

“Could not have been reasonably foreseen”

The above was part of the statement made by a clearly upset CEO of the company that owns Sydney radio station 2Day FM.  I do not wish to heap further condemnation on him for his reaction to recent events, but in his statement he may have highlighted the problem which people like him need to address.

In a few months time this may have all blown over – personally I hope not – so in summary:

  • Whilst the Duchess of Cambridge was in hospital, two DJs working for 2Day FM made a prank call early in the (UK) morning to the Hospital pretending to be the Queen asking about her Grand-daughter-in-law.
  • Because it was outside reception hours, the call was answered by a duty nurse who was taken in by the call and passed it on to the nurse caring for the Duchess who then revealed details about a patient’s medical condition. (BBC News Website 5 December 2012)
  • The call was recorded and then considered by the radio station’s management who then authorised the broadcasting of the call and the private medical details. (BBC News Website 8 December 2012)
  • The nurse who originally took the call has been found dead in her accommodation. (BBC News Website 7 December 2012)

We could say this is just a juvenile prank gone wrong, but this chain of events is more than that.

Outrage has been directed at the two DJs, who have now probably realised that just as their prank has “gone global”, the reaction is both global (in terms of the range of reaction) and acutely individual.  They are not many years out of student-hood, but the people who recruited them and who set the ethos of the station in which they work are not.  That same management also decided to broadcast the call and set in train a set of events that they could not control.

“As long as there has been FM radio there have been prank calls” (NSW Premier)

If you cannot control events it is a truism that you cannot foresee (reasonably or not) the consequences.  Is it therefore reasonable to set such events in train – for a laugh?

Student pranks rarely extend beyond the college or university concerned.  Pranks involving telephone calls half-way around the world will extend considerably further.  If you are pranking your tutor (or even your vice-chancellor) you possibly have some idea how they will react to being made to look a prat in front of the rest of the university. (You also probably know what will happen to you as a result.)  If you are pranking someone you do not know in a different culture you have no idea how they will react to being made to look … what? A prat, or un-professionally complicit in the breach of patient confidentiality (the status of the patient is actually irrelevant)?  (You may also feel – falsely – less constrained by fear of any retribution).

The two DJs are said to be devastated – which rather exhausts the vocabulary for describing how the nurse’s partner and children feel, the CEO of the owning company is clearly upset, but what will change?

Are these sort of programmes (not just 2Day fm’s – Ross/Brand etc. are included) still “game for a laugh”?  Or might they take more care when they cannot reasonably foresee the consequences of their actions?

Call me a killjoy – but at least Joy was not the nurse’s name.


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