It’s always fascinating watching and reading the media commenting on the media’s response to actions of the media!
This morning it was a rude awakening to the news that the nurse who initially took the prank call by an Australian radio duo and put it through to the Duchess of Cambridge’s hospital room had been found dead after apparently committing suicide.
It put the responsible radio network, Austereo, back into the headlines once again for all the wrong reasons, or are they? Once again, advertisers are pulling back, Coles was, I understand, the first to jump. But as with the Sandilands and Jones sagas before-hand, one wonders whether the pull-back will be measured in days or weeks. As I write this the Austereo network has confirmed all advertisements on its station 2Day FM have been suspended until at least Monday. http://bit.ly/U1ufAY or according to
@smh All advertising on 2Day FM has been suspended indefinitely, a spokeswoman for Southern Cross Austereo has just confirmed.
Austereo have clearly learned at least one lesson though. They pulled the two announcers immediately off air and deleted their twitter accounts, but not before replaying the call after the news of the nurse’s apparent suicide broke.
The social media storm which broke both across Australia and internationally immediately afterwards called for sackings, resignations and even litigation amid claims they had ‘blood on their hands’. Complaints were sent to ACMA. Amongst all of this there were some calling for support for the young announcers, concerned that the pressure being exerted on them might tip them into similar behaviour.
This afternoon Tim Burrowes, editor of Mumbrella wrote a piece saying it’s more complicated than that. Yes, it is, but my reasoning is slightly different to Tim’s. http://mumbrella.com.au/radio-duo-dont-have-blood-on-their-hands-over-nurses-suicide-its-more-complicated-than-that-130046
There has been a silent agreement by the press that suicides should not be reported, and this broke the mold. The reason being, apparently, that providing details may cause copycats. Initial news reports stated that the announcers ‘could not have reasonably foreseen this would happen’ – otherwise recognised as in-house defence 101. The point is that perhaps they should have. Perhaps as a society, or at least as a press corps, we have deviated too far from human decency, ethics, and any semblance of reason or empathy in the mire of opinion based reporting we now see destroying our once great newspapers and television stations. Maybe the question we need to ask as a result of this tragic situation is why did they not give the vaguest thought to the consequences of their actions? Seriously!
The initial call clearly took everyone involved by surprise, hence the unintended consequences. The receptionist was put into an impossible situation, believing she was speaking to someone she dared not offend. The callers were clearly surprised that they had penetrated security so easily. But instead of saying ‘ok we’ve done it, time to stop and call prank’ they didn’t. They persisted and fooled the second nurse into divulging personal information. A step too far. The context also needs to be remembered. The focus of this whole affair was a young woman, regardless of her royal status, negotiating the earliest stages of a problematic pregnancy, with all the possibilities that entails, including the possible loss of a much wanted child.
One of the things that bemuses people from other countries about Aussies is that our humour is on one hand self-deprecating, but on the other we use humour in terrible ways to cover-up extreme hurt toward other people. ‘Just having a dig’, we hear as we try to laugh off those who protest, then become offended that they ‘just can’t take a joke.’ We need to look more closely at our idea of humour – comedians, over to you.
A second issue was raised by Joe Hildebrand on 7 Sunrise on Saturday morning when he opined that (many) people who commit suicide do so out of an attempt to attention seek, or to lay blame at the feet of someone they are leaving behind. If that is the reason given for not broadcasting suicides, then shame on all of us.
Suicide is one of the loneliest acts in the world. It is something that occurs when people feel that they have absolutely nowhere left to turn. The feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness that usually accompany this final act are not an attempt to blame anyone. They are a final statement that the person involved believes the world would be better off without them. With all of the clients I’ve worked with over the past three decades, not one has mentioned wanting to suicide to ‘get back’ at anyone. To suggest so is to demonstrate a deep lack of understanding of the intent of suicide. As one who has trained and worked as a psychologist, I’m one of those who believe we need to report suicide. We do not need the details, there need to be no sensationalism. We simply need to acknowledge that people driven to that level of desperation, did, in fact, exist. Media, over to you.
Regardless of the causative factors involved in the final decisions of Ms Saldanha who acted as she did, the fact is that there are now two radio presenters who will have to live with the fact that their actions put in place a chain of events that led to a woman’s death. The woman’s family has to live with the loss of a wife, mother, daughter, sister. The hospital involved has to live with the fact that it has lost a highly regarded, skilled nurse who clearly needed more support than they gave. Unintended consequences – you betcha.
As a society, we fail those who cannot cope and fall by the wayside. If one in four people experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, should we not be working from the assumption that we need to be careful when dealing with sensitive situations?
Schools alone cannot ‘fix’ these issues, nor can mental health bureaucracies, individual organisations, individual people, or politicians. What was clear in this case was that people who are in the media often have little understanding of the impact they can have, many individuals have little understanding of the power of empathy, and as a society we have a long way to go to become fully human. Over to us!
We may not know all of the consequences of our actions, but unless we show some compassion and empathy toward others, and help our children to learn this very basic building block of humanity, we will never overcome some of the very issues we face as a society. The very least we should be asking the radio duo is ‘what have you learned from this that you can teach your radio network?’
Sir Walter Scott was right when he wrote
Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!
Julie Boyd has worked as an educator and psychologist for many years. She continues to provide counselling with a particular focus on those with suicide ideation, and to work in reviewing organisational wellbeing and prevention strategies.
@jboyded let’s swap. My view as someone who lost both parents to suicide. http://teamoyeniyi.com/2012/12/08/when-deceit-kills/ …
@jboyded: My take on responsibility and the radio prank affair, as a psych who works with suicidal ppl http://julieboyd.com.au/oh-what-a-tangled-web-we-weave-how-do-we-teach-kids-responsibility-in-the-light-of-this/ …
Great piece ! “
@jboyded: My take on responsibility and the radio prank affair, as a psych who works with suicidal ppl http://julieboyd.com.au/oh-what-a-tangled-web-we-weave-how-do-we-teach-kids-responsibility-in-the-light-of-this/ …”