Radio boss stands by DJs after prank-call nurse dies
The chief executive of the company behind a prank call to the hospital caring for the pregnant Kate Middleton has stood by the two DJs who made the call.
Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse who was duped into transferring the call, apparently took her own life after the incident.
But Rhys Holleran, chief executive of 2Day FM’s parent company Southern Cross Austereo, stood by the two DJs, and said they were shocked and devastated by the news of Ms Saldanha’s death.
At a news conference in Melbourne he said: “This is a tragic event that could not have been reasonably foreseen and we’re deeply saddened by it. I spoke to both presenters early this morning and it’s fair to say they’re completely shattered.”
Mr Holleran said the pair had been offered counselling, adding: “These people aren’t machines, they’re human beings. We’re all affected by this.”
He would not say who came up with the idea for the call, only that “these things are often done collaboratively”.
He said he was confident the station hadn’t broken any laws, noting that prank calls in radio have been happening “for decades”.
“They’re not just part of one radio station or one network or one country - they’re done worldwide,” he said.
In the wake of the tragedy Southern Cross Austereo said that, by mutual consent, the hosts would not be returning to their show until further notice.
Ms Saldanha was pronounced dead yesterday morning at an address near the King Edward VII’s Hospital in central London, where the pregnant Duchess had been treated for a severe form of morning sickness.
The nurse, reportedly a mother of two, was the victim of two DJs from the Sydney-based station 2Day FM, who impersonated the Queen and the Prince of Wales.
She answered their call and, believing they were members of the Royal Family, put them through to another nurse who described Kate’s condition in detail.
In a statement last night, Ms Saldanha’s family said they were “deeply saddened” by the death and asked for privacy.
They said: “We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha. We would ask that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time.”
The two presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, apologised for their actions, as did their radio station.
They have now been taken off the air and the station has been inundated with complaints.
In a statement Southern Cross Austereo said: “Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII’s Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world.
“Chief executive officer Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters. They are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they will not comment about the circumstances.
“SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy.”
The news of Ms Saldanha’s death has led the headlines in the Australian media, with calls for the DJs to be sacked.
It was reported the advertisers are already deserting the radio station, including supermarket giant Coles and telecommunications company Telstra.
There has been an angry backlash from people in Australia, and almost 14,000 people have left comments on the station’s Facebook page.
Many called for the pair to be sacked permanently, and others said they had “blood on their hands”.
Maris Haryadi wrote: “Love it when what you expect to be worldwide sensation turns into worldwide condemnation! Hope you learn your lesson now”, while Gary Dowdell called there action “infantile, plain disgusting behaviour”.
Siobhan Davies added: “Disgusting and irresponsible prank. These two should never be allowed on radio or television again”, while Ali Matour wrote: “’Will not return until further notice’... They should silence your radio forever.”
Some even called for charges to be brought, and TV personality Kelly Osbourne tweeted: “Mel Greig and Michael Christian should be put in prison for what they have done!”
The two presenters remarked during their show how their efforts were the “easiest prank call ever made”, as they put on mock British accents they later described as “terrible”.
The prank call was pre-recorded and vetted by lawyers before being broadcast to listeners in Sydney.
In their initial apology the two presenters said: “We were very surprised that our call was put through. We thought we’d be hung up on as soon as they heard our terrible accents.
“We’re very sorry if we’ve caused any issues and we’re glad to hear that Kate is doing well.”
A flood of complaints has been made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting.
Chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement: “These events are a tragedy for all involved and I pass on my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased nurse in London.
“The ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage, but will be engaging with the licensee, Today FM Sydney, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call.”
The tragedy has even reached Australia’s political class.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard called Ms Saldanha’s death a terrible tragedy, saying: “Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time.”
But the premier of New South Wales Barry O’Farrell defended the two presenters, World News Australia reported, and said the DJs must be feeling “terrible”.
He said: “I don’t imagine in any way that those who were engaged in the typical FM radio stunt would have thought it would lead to this.
“I think there are some people today who are suffering, not just the family of the nurse but those who in some way were involved with what appears to be the trigger for this tragedy.”
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge last night sent their condolences to Ms Saldanha’s family.
In a statement St James’s Palace said: “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha.
“Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII’s Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”
The spokesman stressed that they had not complained to the hospital about the hoax call, saying: “On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times.”
The hospital said in a statement: “We can confirm the tragic death of a member of our nursing staff, Jacintha Saldanha.
“Jacintha has worked at the King Edward VII’s Hospital for more than four years. She was an excellent nurse and a well-respected and popular member of staff with all her colleagues.
“We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital has been supporting her at this difficult time.”
Hospital chief executive John Lofthouse said: “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies at this time are with her family and friends. Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much-loved and valued colleague.”
Scotland Yard said Ms Saldanha’s death was not being treated as suspicious.
In a statement it said officers were called at around 9.35am yesterday morning to a report of a woman found unconscious at an address in Weymouth Street in central London.
It said: “London Ambulance Service attended and the woman was pronounced dead at the scene. Inquiries are continuing to establish the circumstances of the incident. The death is not being treated as suspicious at this stage.”