Did the Kate prank call to nurses go too far?
Broadcast colleagues defend Australian pranksters
The apparent suicide of a British nurse who was tricked by two Australian disc jockeys into believing they were members of the Royal Family looking for medical information about Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, has raised questions about the boundaries of prank calls.
The twitterverse exploded in response to the death of Jacintha Saldanha — one of two nurses who got caught up in the prank — with many accusing the broadcasters of being culpable.
"Tragic suicide of nurse involved taking fake Australian call at Kate's hospital. The journalist should be arrested/charged with something," tweeted Alan Sugar, a prominent British businessman and media personality.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said it was "deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession."
But some Canadian broadcasters defended their Australian colleagues Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who are off the air for now, saying they did not cross any ethical line and should not be held responsible for her death.
"Not only would I not blame those radio DJs but I wouldn’t even consider it to be a factor," said Toronto radio host Dean Blundell, of the Dean Blundell Show on 102.1 The Edge. "If she was that fragile a human being she probably had many other issues in her life."
However, Blundell, who has had his own run-ins with the CRTC and the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, agreed that there are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed.
"The hateful stuff, the hurtful stuff, that stuff is way too far. But when you're playing a prank or a joke on someone to find out if Kate Middleton has morning sickness, that's not too far."
Toronto radio broadcast veteran Fred Patterson, of Humble and Fred Radio.com, said the Australian bit was done with the best of intentions.
"Actually was a great bit, because they got a lot more out of it than they expected to. And then today it just went south," he said. "They never dreamt that this woman would take her life. So up until today it was a clever bit that worked out for those guys."
Patterson's co-host, Howard (Humble) Glassman, said those calling for the Australian DJs to be fired are missing the point.
"There's no intention on their part, they didn't badger this woman day after day. In fact, the main victim of the prank wasn't the one who killed herself, it was the one who put them through to them. Who could have imagined that would ever happen? It was a pretty neat idea. When they were brainstorming they probably thought, nobody will think we're the Queen."
Saldanha was the first to answer the call from the Australian broadcasters posing as Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles seeking information about the condition of Kate, who was in the hospital suffering from acute morning sickness. Saldhana's first responses and those of a second nurse to whom she transferred the call were recorded and broadcast.
While Patterson said it's difficult to know where to draw the line with these types of prank calls, Glassman said it crosses the line when it veers into harassment.
"For me the line is if you were to call a person and continually harass them and make them the brunt of the joke day after day. Then I think there is a line. When you start to become a bully to somebody."
The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has no set guidelines when it comes to prank calls by radio hosts.
'Within the context of our rules or codes, there's no specific prohibition on that nor have we had a problem with that in the past," said John MacNab, executive director of the CBSC.
It's doubtful a similar prank could happen in Canada, since section 3 of the radio regulations states that broadcasters can't air a telephone conversation with a person unless their oral or written consent was received prior to the broadcast.
MacNab said they've only received three complaints relating to prank calls. Two of those complaints weren't from the target of the call and the third complained about a lack of consent before a voice being aired.
Some Quebec-based radio personalities have been well-known for their on-air prank calls.
Pierre Brassard, pretending to be former prime minister Jean Chrétien, was able to arrange a phone call and speak with Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul II.
Sébastien Trudel and Marc-Antoine Audette, known as the Masked Avengers, or Les Justiciers Masqués, were able to get through to a number of celebrities, including in 2008 to vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, posing as the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.