by D.J. Webb
We have probably all listened to the hoax call to Edward VII Hospital in which an Australian radio show phoned the hospital pretending to be the Queen in the hope of obtaining information about Kate Mountbatten née Middleton’s confinement. While, of course, I do not celebrate the fact that a nurse is believed to have committed suicide, I cannot join in the condemnation of the phonecall.
The phonecall was funny, lighthearted in intent, and transparently not from the Queen. The accents were extraordinarily phoney, and the call was littered with humorous comments about the Queen having to go and feed the corgis, etc. The male presenter also attempted to imitate the yapping of corgis at one point. The call was just “high jinx” — a joke. They could not have known that the nurse would commit suicide — and such a reaction is by no means a logical consequence of having been the “victim” of such a prank. There must be more to this story. Was the nurse already suffering from depression? How did the hospital management regard her failing to observe protocol and put this call through? This is a top private hospital, after all, and it can be expected that the management of such facilities do have words with members of staff who do not protect the privacy of their patients.
Whatever the background, the radio station making the prank call is not responsible for the suicide. It was not “quality journalism” — there is nothing ‘Reithian’ about this radio programme – but it was not highly objectionable either. Now, to my dismay, the two radio presenters involved have been disciplined, and their show may be permanently cancelled. I would not like to see two promising careers ended over this incident, as the extreme reaction of the nurse could not have been foreseen. This could feed into calls for more controls on the press, including arrangements for the protection of privacy. Most of such laws and proposed laws go too far – and the Royal family are about the most legitimate targets of an intrusive media in Britain today.
You could argue that ordinary people should not be subject to scurrilous media attention, but the Royal family have courted the attention of the Press when it has suited them. We should always err on the side of press freedom, although that does mean that silly prank calls will take place in a free country.