FitzSimons on Prank Calls

Peter FitzSimons adds some much needed perspective to the prank call debate:

But to all those – particularly the British media – who are firing vicious epithets at the two radio DJs who are the public face of that prank call, blaming them for the tragedy, please get a grip.

What, precisely, are they guilty of?

Making a prank call? Which DJ in the history of the world hasn’t made prank calls? It is part of the genre, a practice beloved through the generations and around the world, including all over Britain.

Was there malice in this call, then? Please point it out. Please show us a shred of evidence that anywhere in the process of putting the call through, there might have been a mite of malice that it would genuinely hurt someone?

Perhaps then, they were guilty of criminal negligence, or even mere negligence.

Really? The test of negligence, as I remember from my garden-variety legal studies, was whether or not a ”reasonable man” might have had any expectation that their actions would have resulted in the kind of tragedy we have seen.

I invite you to be the judge. Who could¬†possibly¬†have thought that a silly prank call like that – one of thousands of prank calls, no doubt, made by radio stations around the world on that day – would have led to the young woman taking her life? Can anyone point to a precedent where such an innocent call has resulted in such shocking consequences? I can’t.

And for those who¬†still¬†make the case that the radio pair are guilty of a terrible crime, I point to the cheery reaction of Prince Charles himself, shortly after he was apprised of the call. Did he not, quite appropriately, have a little fun with it, on Thursday, when he asked the waiting media: ”How do you know I’m not a radio station?” Mirth all around, led by the journalists.

For Charles appreciated the bleeding obvious. The call was simply irreverent. Not malicious. Not negligent. And certainly not criminally negligent.

While most of the rest of the media was outdoing itself with gushing about the impending royal birth, this radio station was simply, to use the colloquial expression, ”taking the piss”. That is part of the defining characteristics of successful radio DJs, and it certainly defines huge swathes of the Australian population when it comes to how to deal with English aristocracy. It has been ever thus.

I repeat: it is a shocking tragedy this young woman has taken her life. But is the real culprit a couple of DJs making a prank call?

Or does the fault lie somewhere in an English culture of such overblown hyperbole when it comes to anything to do with the royals that a young nurse could really think her life was no longer worth living because she had put a call through to a royal ward? You must know the answer.

  • John1234

    If the Pom media hadn’t cranked this story up with all their faux outrage, the poor nurse might never have felt so bad about it that she had to do what she did.

    If the hospital management and securuty had put clear procedures in place for handling phone calls, the prank call would never have succeeded,

    As far as I can see, the hysterical media, and the hospital management, have direct culpability, yet they are the ones clamouring loudest for the heads of the DJs.

    • Dave

      And you don’t think they would wind it up, it was over the outrage, the sheer cheek of 2 Aussies. PLease think cause and effect, and not trying to divert the issue, they made a call, if they didn’t make the call, of if their managers/producers/editors decided not to run it…….. end of story, she would most likely be alive today.

    • fozzie2

      John everyone played their part, but that does not change the outcome, a mother. wife, sister, daughter is dead. I reject the idea that any one person or organisation is to blame. Like so many tragedies, it is a conspiracy of events that snowball. The overriding sense is that the ratcheting up of the media be more outrageous and more out raged is at the core of this, and as one commentator I read mused maybe it is the the public’s unquenching desire for celebrity news that creates these situations.

  • peterwn

    1. It was the radio station management who cranked things up by deciding to broadcast the recorded conversation to the world. If that had not been broadcast and the content of the call regarding Kate’s condition kept private, the incident would probably have been accepted as a prank.

    2. The hospital did have procedures in place – anyone answering its main phone number after hours was supposed to take a message, not transfer the call. However if staff thought there was a VIP calling it is only natural staff would try and help.

    3 I just do not accept the hospital managemnent had culpability. The radio station management had IMO principal culpability by not keeping the conversation private. If the conversation remained private there would have been far less trouble and the hospital staff member would not have felt so much shame.

    Frankly this is another example of crappy Fairfax journalism, and the sort of writing on a par with the book about the demise of Ansett (when owned by Air NZ) written by a couple of Aussie journalistic hacks. I sense Peter FitzSimons is trying to cover for other media mates.

    • Euan Ross-Taylor

      While I agree with you that confidentiality has been breached, I believe that it is a separate issue and a valid one. But the unfortunate death of this nurse is not the responsibility of the DJs. If she had a migraine and committed suicide, would it then be the migraines’ fault? If you fall off a bridge and die, is it the slippery railings fault? If you look at the CTV building in ChCh and the findings in the report, then you see clear culpability – people did not carry out their jobs properly. But in the nurses case it was she that did not carry out her job properly – if she did not put the call through that would be the end of the story. We do not want to become like the US and be a country of blaming litigants trying to make a buck off someone else. I am responsible for the cards I am dealt and that others deal to me; if they break the law I will be after them otherwise I will work with what is in my hand at any time.

      • peterwn

        If the phone call had remained confidential and there were immediate assurances to that effect – it would have been very unlikely that the nurse would have taken her life.

        The radio station management has to shoulder most of the blame for this. If it really cared about its DJ’s it could have stated that while it regarded the DJs’ action as a prank, the station agreed it was no longer a prank once the recording of the conversation was broadcast.

        Instead the station management is trying to fob off blame on to the hospital for allegedly not answering its calls. However it must have been bleeding obvious to management that broadcasting the conversation would have been a grave breach of privacy.

        A thoroughly bad management decision that has cost the shareholders heaps, and this is ‘just the beginning’. It was also managements’ job to save the DJs’ from their own stupidity – management failed dismally here.

        • Euan Ross-Taylor

          @peterwn:disqus @chwaga:disqus

          While I fully respect your positions, please answer this “did the nurse have any culpability – if so how much?”

          • peterwn

            That nurse’s culpability (if you can call it that) was trivial – she transferred the hoax call to the ward instead of taking a message. Put yourself in her shoes – she was near the end of night duty – she answered the outside line and had who appeared to be Royal Family members on the other end – she wanted to help. She was caught at a point of maximum vulnerability. She was a respected nurse – she would not normally have been that vulnerable. Her ethnic situation also needs to be considered.

            However she did NOT herself divulge any confidential information – she merely transferred the call. Arguably the ward nurse was more culpable – but similar considerations apply.

            Anyway to telephone up a hospital in the middle of the night, ask to be put through to a ward and then try and pull a hoax on a night nurse is a pretty disgusting and mean thing to do – and this is what the DJs’ did. And then to try and say the nurses were culpable is just plain despicable.

            I doubt they would done this to St Vincent or other Sydney hospital. they thought they were protected by distance – but as they have found out the hard way they were not.

            What is worse is it makes things difficult for everyone when a hospital has to put in strict protocols to minimise the risk of this sort of thing happening – as it is hospitals have to spend a fortune on security to protect patients and staff and deal with the violent drunks who turn up at A&E – money that could be better spent on health.

          • Dave

            I imagine now ringing a hospital for info on a patient is going to be so tough, they will insist on a list of all possible callers, and their phone numbers, and each one assigned a code to quote. If in future, one of your loved ones is in hospital, and you call for an update on their progress, and have forgotten the code, think of that nurse and the prank!! A big negative.

          • SJ00

            Its tough enough ringing anywhere and getting information about yourself yet alone someone else. This won’t change anything.

            Why would you bother a hospital ringing up all the time getting updates? About loved ones? If you loved them, you would be at the hospital. If you need to get hourly updates and can’t be there, ring someone close to the patient, don’t bother the nurses, doctors, receptionists etc. ‘Sorry Mrs Jones, can’t fix your heart attack right now, just talking to Dave about his wife’s sore knee’.

        • Whaleoil

          Rubbish, she could still have taken her life, but for other reasons.

          • fozzie2

            That is one sick comment Whale …

      • chwaga

        While we all assume that the Queen would never telephone herself the receptionist was between a rock and a hard place. If she had not put the call through and by some chance it was the Queen then she would be in trouble. Like wise if it was not the Queen and she put it through then she would also have done the wrong thing..

        Clearly she felt that by her actions she had let the Royal family down. What a thing to have on your conscious. The call put her in an unenviable position and for that alone the DJ,s are responsible.

      • Dave

        Your making wild assumptions there Euan. The DJ’s have breached the Radio Code of Practice, Wireless Communications laws, Privacy laws (which have real teeth in Australia), Communications laws. KEy principal. THey have recorded a conversation without the expressed permission of parties to the conversation. So, taking your point, the DJ’s and station managers/editors/producers DID NOT CARRY OUT THEIR JOBS PROPERLY. They HAVE broken the law, watch the media, I expect an investigation and either charges or very heavy penalties for the staff involved and the station. PS: Please tell me which laws she has broken, an internal protocol not to put calls through to the ward, when she thought she had the most Important person in England on the phone! I would have put the call through, as I am sure most people would.

        • Random66

          I’m in agreement with you Dave but in regards to recording without permission this comment was left yesterday by Russell Bell and he had this to say (here is just an excerpt);

          “If 2DayFM had made the call to a Oz hospital they would have needed the hoax victim’s permission before broadcast. The target was overseas so no permission required. The station exploited a legal loophole.”

          • Dave

            Random. I am pretty sure the ACMA and broadcasting rules were changed to include calls offshore, especially if used via the internet. The object was to catch pedo’s and other sicko’s but, similar circumstances if it was via an internet phone which disguises the number one is calling from. There has been a huge response here in Aussie that they have breached the privacy and recording rules. You raise a good point, I Will reserve judgement

        • Euan Ross-Taylor

          I have not ‘assumed’ anything Dave. I don’t know about Aussie laws and yes I will follow the case. I take it you are disagreeing with Fitzsimmons here who clearly thinks that there has been no breach of Aussie law? I do not gloat in this poor womans’ demise. My opinion though is that she obviously believed that she did something wrong and acted as she thought fit. I disagree with her actions – it is very sad. I do assume that she was ‘helped’ to believe she acted inappropriately by putting the call through – maybe by her nurse manager, her co workers, or others involved. However the DJs did not help her to come to this conclusion.

          Yes you are correct; the ‘law’ she broke was probably an internal protocol. Most workplaces have them and they are binding whether or not the said person is nice, or tired, or of a different ethnicity.
          I will make another assumption here: It would appear that her nurse manager did not do a good enough job supporting her through this difficult time for her. There is little doubt that she was vulnerable and that she needed support which it seems she did not adequately receive. If not the DJs prank that tipped her over the edge, then most likely something else would have.

          I also agree that if there was a greater offense it may be that the second nurse did not qualify who she was talking to? I don’t know, but my contribution here is around a nurses’ suicide and who is to ‘blame’. I contend that the DJ’s had no culpability in the actual death. I’m sure you disagree, but that is ok isn’t it?

          • Euan Ross-Taylor

            and please don’t SHOUT. It’s bad form.

    • Richard McGrath

      Yep lowest common denominator stuff. I would want to know which businesses use this radio station for advertising and boycott their products.

      • Lion_ess

        Radio stations have been pulling these pranks for years – they’re nothing new – funny or not funny – they’re not designed to hurt. More worrying is a suicidal nurse and a hospital who has clearly not trained their staff properly in dealing with VIP’s.

        • fozzie2

          And they getting worse and more brazen. This station is already in hot water for crossing the line ( putting a 12 year old is a situation where she told of a rape on air …) they keep pushing the boundaries – now they have their victim.

  • Basil

    Can’t wait for the aussie backlash against UK as they deserve it too.The DJ’s did nothing wrong.The nurse decided to take it this far not them.If we can’t joke around then what can we do??

    • Richard McGrath

      So someone misrepresenting themselves over the phone by saying they are you is fine then?

      • Basil

        Yes cause it’s a bloody prank.They can’t immitate my voice anyway so it would be obvious as it would have been also in this case..She obviously had something else going on in her life which we aren’t being told as usual.It’s pure bullshit….If we can’t joke around what’s the bloody point!!!

  • blazer

    makes a good point for a clown that wears a red handkerchief around his melon ton attract attention.

  • Dave

    I take a different view from others. In my original post a few days ago, i said they were WRONG to make the call.. I still believe that. However, they now say they made the call, recorded it and sent the recording to the editors/producers for checking, who later scheduled it to play. The major problems there:

    They have broken the Privacy laws (in Aussie) by recording a conversation without the express permission of other parties. 2DayFM is already under threat of having their broadcasting license revoked for prior prank calls gone wrong and comments by Vile Kyle Sandilands.

    I respect Camerons blog yesterday, however, these circumstances are somewhat different, in that the nurse received a prank call, that went viral. The ensuing media circus and weight on her would have not happened without that prank call, or, as we now know, if the editor/producer pressed the go button, she would have gone about her private life as it was – PRIVATE, and probably quite a settled life. True, we don’t know all the facts, we don’t know what else was happening in her life.

    But the fact remain, a few hours after a prank call going to air, she took her own life. If one of our young people made a mistake, or someone is involved in a car accident due to a moments inattention, we expect them to be brought to justice. Similar circumstances, this was a prank gone wrong, there should be consequences for the DJ’s and the station. They have already lost substantial revenue from advertisers pulling contracts, and stand to lose a lot more. PeterWN, I agree with you!!

    • SJ00

      Dave: “True, we don’t know all the facts, we don’t know what else was happening in her life.

      But the fact remain, a few hours after a prank call going to air, she took her own life.”

      So we don’t know all the facts but you are still going to jump to conclusions.

      What do you want to charge the DJs with? Death by dodgy accent? Impersonating the Queen and Charles?

      Lets push this out a bit, what if they rang up, in their own voices, completely serious, and asked to be put through to Kates ward and get an update (which is essentially what they did). 2 media people trying to get an update. And they got put through? And then the nurse topped herself? Now what have they done wrong?

      What if the nurse walked out after work and media started asking her questions and she said ‘oh she is having twins’. And then she tops herself. Are the media to blame there?

      At best, you seem to be pushing the fact they didn’t get permission to air the prank on the radio. Fine. Take them to court for failing to get permission and most likely cope a fine. That doesn’t make them responsible for killing someone. It makes them responsible for not getting permission.

      What you are essentially saying, is that anyone who talks to someone prior to them killing themselves should be held accountable. You said it yourself ‘But the fact remain, a few hours after a prank call going to air, she took her own life’. You are saying its their fault for talking to her last. Will people have to defend themselves and prove what they said to someone just before they kill themselves isn’t the catalyst for them doing the act?

  • Frank Thomas

    Well said! Kind of puts it all in perspective.

  • Jaffa

    Why was such a mentally fragile nurse on duty, and looking after Royalty?
    I feel sorry for the DJ’s, they did nothing wrong!

    • Richard McGrath

      So if a con man gains information from you or one of your family over the phone by saying they are someone else such as the police, they’ve done nothing wrong?

    • peterwn

      There is no evidence or indication that the nurse in question was ‘mentally fragile’ – by all accounts she was a successful and respected nurse. Also there was no indication that she was directly involved in the care of Kate – she merely answered the hospital phone and put the callers through to Kate’s ward. If the content of the call was not made public, I very much doubt she would have taken her life.

      Also if there is concern for the female DJ then she seems to be ‘mentally fragile’ then she should not be playing pranks that could blow up in her face.

      That people are demanding accountability from the DJ’s and radio station are no different from any other case where people demand accountability when things go seriously wrong.

  • Hazards001

    The hand wringing brigade need to get over themselves. The nurses actions are sad and unfortunate for her loved ones. But they are not a tragedy nor can it be attributed to one act. I seriously doubt this poor woman killed herself over one thing. It may have been a catalyst (or a coincidence) but there is more to it than a couple of dimwit DJ’s piss poor attempt at humour. It wasn’t funny, I didn’t laugh when I heard it on ZB before the news of the suicide and its not funny now. Of course that’s just my opinion. Perhaps we can look at the slimeball media camped on her doorstep, the hospital administrators, despite their public vocalisations of support I for one am sceptical or perhaps she was just one of the unfortunates that wasn’t coping with life anyway?

    • peterwn

      Hopefully the coroner may be able to shed some light on this aspect – the Metropolitan Police are no doubt investigating this aspect for their report to the Coroner. The DJs’ act was more than a ‘piss poor attempt at humour’ – it was a gross invasion of a pregnant woman’s right to privacy and right to a peaceful and fulfilling pregnancy and the rights of the yet to be born child.