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Understandably, there is a lot of commentary at the moment on the very sad news of  the death of Jacintha Saldanha, the nurse at King Edward VII Hospital who answered the prank call made by two DJs from 2DayFM radio station this week. On most levels, I really don’t want to add to the commentary, because I don’t much about what happened, except from what I’ve read and heard from the media. And since the responsible conduct of the media is a key issue here, writing blog posts does seem to touch on hypocrisy, at least to me. But I’m bothered by what I’m hearing, so I’m putting my two cents in.

I have to say that when I first heard about this prank call, I was furious – as a member of the community, but particularly as someone who used to be a nurse. The relationship between a nurse and their patient is very particular. It requires an extremely high degree of trust to care well for people at the most susceptible times in their lives. And yes, there are times when your patient is someone high-profile and you know a bit about them, even if it is only by public reputation (however reliable). They are just as vulnerable, maybe more so, than any other patient, because their privacy is so limited. In my brief experience, that dynamic elicits a certain protectiveness for one’s patient and a genuine effort to give them a safe space which is confidential and discreet. The ideal is to provide an environment that frees the patient to be vulnerable at a basic human level, while at the same time maintaining their dignity. It can be very difficult to do, largely because too many reporters seem to be of the view that public figures are never entitled to be left alone, even when they are in hospital. I would say that the Duchess of Cambridge is absolutely entitled to her privacy, not because of her title, but because she is a human being whose medical treatment is, frankly, none of anyone else’s business. Jacintha Saldanha was also entitled to respect. Interfering with that nurse-patient relationship (which I can only imagine was a little daunting) for the sake of cheap laughs was an incredibly poor move, in my opinion.

That said, I don’t think the two DJs involved are solely to blame, either. Plenty of other people have pointed out that no-one can know what exactly lead to Jacintha Saldanha’s death. But they made that prank call and they will live with that. Partly, I feel incredibly sorry for them. But as has also been pointed out, they don’t run the whole show, as it were – there are lawyers and producers and managers that apparently all thought this was a great idea. As the radio station have said, they could never have predicted such an outcome. But honestly, when will we learn to be more careful? Have we really not figured out that entertaining ourselves at the expense of others does have consequences? I guess disrespecting the Queen, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cambridge wasn’t seen as an issue. A bit of a giggle. Aussie humour at its larrikin best. Whether that’s the case or not, it was someone else they professionally humiliated – not a member of the Royal Family, who (sadly) are more than accustomed to such behaviour, just a regular member of the public doing her job. And for what?

Apparently, for ratings among people who actually think such things are riotously funny. If the Australian public didn’t love those socially awkward and embarrassing prank calls, no one would make them. As Clementine Ford suggested in the comment that got me writing this, let’s look at our own complicity. The media are only a reflection of the values (or lack thereof) of the community at large. So, a final question: Why is it that we find someone else’s embarrassment funny? Honestly, I don’t get it.


Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner


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