A radio station beleaguered. Two presenters in hiding. A family in mourning, and a hospital under siege by a barrage of media attention. The object of initial interest, the royal fetus, all but forgotten as this amoeba of public outrage and opinion shape-shifts faster than the media that created it.
When asked to comment on the ongoing 2Day FM royal prank call scandal, the unintended consequence of which is the tragic apparent suicide of a nurse involved, I almost couldn’t bring myself to do it. How to make sense in words of this awful tragedy and this unique global reaction of personalized anger and righteous indignation. And am I just feeding the fire in doing so?
I must have started and not finished a dozen times. Should I preface the piece with the obvious; that this terrible outcome of a misguided prank call has indeed been a tragedy for all involved? The inescapable fact is two children have been left without their mother, a husband without his wife and a hospital without a valued and respected colleague.
It seems self-evident, unnecessary – even intrusive – to dwell on the despair and hurt of the family. To reiterate their pain as many articles have done previously in order to justify to our readers that whatever I might write next is legitimate, because I have first acknowledged the family’s loss.
But no stranger can, or should, presume to speak on the behalf of those who have suffered such a deeply personal tragedy. Let us leave the family then, to their private grief. Let’s stop sticking the cameras in their faces, trawling Facebook for their personal memories, and stop trying to presume what they must be thinking, feeling, and — yes, blaming — at this horrible time.
The radio presenters. Maybe I should start there. Should I join the ‘global condemnation’ engaging in a social media firestorm of vitriol at their tasteless prank? Should I, too, call for criminal charges to be laid against two individuals whose actions unintentionally and without malice had the unforeseen consequence of this awful event?
Maybe instead I should use it as an opportunity to look inward, to ask myself if I too have ever performed a thoughtless act without regard to the possible consequences. If I have ever made a joke at another’s expense, not fully appreciating the complexities of the feelings and thoughts of the person to whom I’ve subjected to my humiliation. If I’ve ever done something that has hurt someone, that I will have to regret, feel guilt for, stay up late thinking ‘what if’ about, for the rest of my life. And maybe even think myself lucky that in those instances the acts I performed didn’t end in such tragic circumstances.
Or should I continue instead to play the blame game? Should I, if considering whether wider causes than just the prank itself should be acknowledged, identify whom exactly then is to ‘blame’?
Because surely there must be ‘one single cause’? We must all be able to collectively point our judgmental fingers and say ‘you, you there, it was your fault. Someone must pay’. Was it the hospital for not having the appropriate procedures in place to prevent the call going through? Was it the lawyers who approved the broadcast, or the station itself for encouraging such inane humour?
Surely though, the blame can’t be mine — the media consumer? It can’t be my own unquenchable need for royal baby news that motivates an avalanche of column inches and headlines with the words ‘royal’ and ‘hoax’ in them. Is it really my fault for clicking multiple times on stories relating to the event, that newspapers know they can continue milking this, wringing dry each new development for maximum exposure? No, never.
“A personal tragedy with a royal twist to it, beaten up in a frenzy of Aussie-bashing, is a sure-fire way to sell newspapers there”, Mike Carlton said in the SMH on Sunday about the media in the UK.
Ask, and you shall receive. Just see the Daily Mail’s Monday ‘summary’ of Australian media’s coverage. The Aussie coverage, the Mail seems to imply, only seeks to ‘absolve’ the presenters of any blame. To share this view one must ignore the nuances of the commentary, to not read in full the original articles quoted. It’s the only way to feel the righteous indignation of a reader somehow ‘scorned’ by an overseas media not taking your personalised tragedy ‘seriously’.
Maybe instead the focus of this should have been that this too, shall pass. If only Jacintha Saldanha could have known that the media and its consumers would have tired of it soon enough. That, as Katherine Murphy in SMH writes, it will ultimately be over just as suddenly as it arrived. “That nothing adheres any more – we are so addled and over-stimulated we will have forgotten by this time next week.”
In the meantime, the UK newspapers will continue to accuse and point fingers. The Australian ones will continue to ‘defend’ and ‘divest responsibility’. The public will rail and cry, and express outrage. And the family, well, they will mourn. Privately, if we let them.
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