The owners of the Australian radio station behind a prank call where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge has suggested the UK media is on a “witch-hunt” after one of the nurses they duped was found dead in a suspected suicide.
Austereo, the company behind Sydney-based station 2DayFM, has been at the centre of a media storm since news of nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death broke on Friday afternoon.
The two presenters behind the prank, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, have been suspended from the station and expressed their remorse in a series of interviews today.
A spokeswoman for Austereo, Sandy Kaye, told the Sydney Morning Herald: “The backlash is just ferocious.
“Australia seems to be much more balanced. In the UK it's like they're on a witch-hunt.
“It's intense and what's incredible to me is it's so much easier for the British media to have us as the target. They haven't once looked at the hospital.”
Commentators in other Australian titles have also come to the defence of the DJs.
Andrew Bolt, writing in the Daily Telegraph, wrote:
Three days after being made a butt of a joke that went around the world, Saldanha killed herself. Cue the outrage. The ‘blood on their hands’ fury of commentators. The tens of thousands of furious tweets. The messages, some disgusting vile and abusive, on the 2DayFM website.
But wait right there. No one can yet be certain if the prank was in fact the primary cause of Saldanha's suicide. Indeed, it seems an unusually extreme reaction.
And before we scapegoat Greig and Christian, remember also all the radio and TV stations which gleefully rebroadcast their prank and all the listeners and viewers who laughed. They are just as culpable.
To be guilty of bad taste is one thing but to be held guilty of manslaughter is a monstrously unfair other, and makes the finger pointers seem hypocrites. Want to push more people over the edge? Keep on screaming ‘blood on their hands’
Let's see if Greig and Christian now crack, too. Is that the game?
An editorial in the same paper said:
It is profoundly unfair to load responsibility for Ms Saldanha's death upon the shoulders of 2DayFM's young presenters.
They could not have possibly known anything of the torment that clearly placed the mother of two at risk of self-harm.
Writing in the Sunday Mail, journalist Jane Hansen said she felt for the pain of the presenters “because I have been there":
Fifteen years ago I did a story for A Current Affair on a television repairman who was overcharging for work not done.
It goes down as one of the most despicable pieces of journalism in Australia because of its outcome.
It was the weekend promotion for A Current Affair and it ran on the Monday of that week.
This man committed suicide several days later.
I can't begin to fathom the pain his family has been through, although I have met with them and cried with them.
I will forever blame myself for walking into the newsroom that day and being assigned that story and not seeing the disaster that was coming.
Those consumer protection stories were daily fodder for nightly television current affairs, and still are.
The shame and humiliation this man obviously felt were quickly my shame and humiliation as well.
The then-host of Media Watch, Stuart Littlemore, called me an "unspeakable bastard" and, of course, I agreed with Littlemore.
In fact, I agreed with every aspect of the criticism.
There was no justification for the outcome, but the event tore my life apart too.
In a series of emotional interviews on Australian TV networks, Greig and Christian insisted their prank call to the King Edward VII's Hospital in central London had "never meant" to get that far and they had expected staff to hang up on them.
A tearful Greig told Today Tonight on Australia's Channel Seven: “There's nothing that can make me feel worse than what I feel right now. And for what I feel for the family.
"We're so sorry that this has happened to them."
Christian said he was "gutted, shattered, heartbroken" by the nurse's death.