Monday, 10 December 2012

not foreseeable?

jacintha saldanha is dead.  believed to have committed suicide after a couple of australian DJs managed to get through to kate middleton, while she was ill in hospital, as part of a prank.

as can be expected, the DJ's are upset.  people around the world are upset and have been expressing their anger.  advertisers have pulled out of the station. and now the station is apparently starting to "fight back", and others are starting to defend them.

for example, jeff kennett, head of a depression counselling service had this to say:

"When they did this they had no intention to cause harm, it was a harmless prank,” he said.

and the CEO of the company which owns the radio station had this to say about the DJs:

... there was no way they could have foreseen the tragic outcome of their actions.

the latter is true, in that they could not have foreseen that someone would have committed suicide.  but there are certain things they could have foreseen. they could have foreseen, once they got through, that all the people in the chain of getting them through would have been seriously embarrassed and in some trouble at work.

while the hospital denies this has happened, and there is no evidence to show otherwise, it is quite reasonably foreseeable that staff would have to face some consequences.  it might not be disciplinary action, it may just be the knowledge that everyone in their workplace knows that they have let the side down by being involved in a major privacy breach.

it is foreseeable, when the targets of the prank are wealthy and powerful, are people who have a team of staff at their disposal, are people who have a huge fan following across the globe, that such people being upset at the breach of their privacy is going to lead to consequences for any staff that were involved in that breach.  they wouldn't need to say anything directly to the staff members involved - possibly the royals didn't even meet jacintha saldahna after the prank call.

but it is enough that their displeasure and unhappiness was expressed in every media outlet across the world.  to know that you were partly responsible for that displeasure would be a pretty horrible feeling.  that is entirely foreseeable.  it is harmful.  this is not a harmful prank.

any prank that involves embarrassing or scaring someone is not harmless.  a prank that involves embarrassing rich, powerful and extremely influential people is certainly not harmless.  it's harmless enough to the DJs sitting in australia, who were crowing about their achievement until this death, while they were safely half a world away.  but they would surely have known it was not harmless to the staff at the hospital who put the call through.

they knew this because the call was pre-recorded, and apparently the station tried to call the hospital 5 times.  why would they do that, unless they were fully aware that airing the call on the radio would have consequences for the hospital and its staff?  they knew.  this was a calculated decision.  at the point they decided to air the call, they also decided that the consequences for the hospital staff was entirely unimportant to them.

they could not have foreseen the suicide.  but they could have foreseen the shame and the pain.  and they didn't care.  the publicity of airing the call was more important.  if no-one had died, then those staff (there were apparently 2 staff involved in forwarding this particular call) would still have suffered harm.  it is impossible that they would have been unaffected.

as i mentioned above, the DJs are upset.  as i expect they would be, and i do sympathise with the fact that they have to live with the consequences of what has happened.  as with the paul henry incident, i think the responsibility for this whole incident doesn't rest solely with the 2 DJs.  in fact the major responsibility lies with the programmes producers and the management of the station.  these are the people who set the culture, who determine what is allowable and not allowable, who make the decisions of what will air and what won't.  the DJs are the public face of this incident because they were the ones on air.  but i doubt they are the major decision-makers, or at the very least, they did not make the crucial decisions on their own.

we're not seeing the names of the people who were responsible for the culture and the important decisions - or maybe i just haven't looked hard enough.  but these are the people who need to be held to account.  they have knowingly caused harm, even if they couldn't foresee that the harm would lead to such tragic results.

just one final point i want to make about all of this.  with the DJs having done an interview & the station owners basically on the offensive, the coverage is now focused on the suffering of the DJs.  and the suffering of jacintha saldanha is beginning to be sidelined.  the suffering of her family is beginning to be sidelined.  it's wrong for the station and the DJ to put their own suffering ahead of this family, in some kind of attempt at public exoneration.  again the DJs are being used by their management - their tears and hurt are being used in attempt to deflect some of the outrage and criticism.  it's unacceptable.

the honourable thing to do in this situation would be for the DJs to express their grief and to apologise for the consequences of their actions by press release, and then to step back and be silent.  it would be honourable for the station management and the show's producers to apologise and express their condolences, and then to step back.    they did what they did.  they take responsibility and face the consequences, but under no circumstances should they try to take centre stage here.

there will be no happy endings here.  at the most, we might hope that there will be some lessons learned, not only by the people at this radio station but also by staff at other media outlets.  i suspect that's wishful thinking on my part.  my sincere condolences to the family of jacintha saldanha.


hazel said...

the latter is true, in that they could not have foreseen that someone would have committed suicide. but there are certain things they could have foreseen. they could have foreseen, once they got through, that all the people in the chain of getting them through would have been seriously embarrassed and in some trouble at work.

thank you for this post. your point about foreseeability is one i haven't seen elsewhere, though i've been largely avoiding this whole thing because radio pranks always make me feel gross.

i think you're totally right that it was absolutely predictable that the people contacted during the prank were going to end up feeling like shit for their part in it, no matter how innocent. and that acting like it was all ~completely impossible~ to know that would happen is just... it's just bullshit. and i feel so, so sorry for jacintha saldanha and her family, and the rest of the hospital staff who got involved in this against their will.

anyway, thank you.

K said...

This entire business is unsavoury and I agree entirely with your post.

The expectation conveyed though the media (refers to the counsellor and the management quoted in your post) that breaching the privacy of a woman as part of a "fun" prank is acceptable because of her position in society. Her vulnerability at this time is given no consideration as she is expected to handle this intrusion in between vomits. Because that is amusing to the audience.

There is no doubt that a dedicated nurse would have felt added responsibility and the desire to please a member of the royal family which may have contributed to the situation in the first place. My heart is filled with sadness for her and her family at this time.

Anonymous said...

"that is entirely foreseeable. it is harmful. this is not a harmful prank."

I think you mean "harmless" there as it has opposite meaning to what you're saying elsewhere :)

That aside, thoroughly agree with what you wrote.


stargazer said...

thanx 'me' - i did see that after i posted but i figured people would work it out. thank you to other commenters as well.

i've been hearing that the hospital management did in fact have words with ms saldanha, but so far this is only on blog posts/article comments. i'm glad there's going to be an autopsy, but i'm assuming that's not the same as an inquiry by a coroner? in other words, no-one will have to testify? because i think it's important the truth comes out as regards to any actual pressure that might have been put on her by hospital management or the royal machinery.

jo7 said...

Really liked your post, thanks for writing something meaningful about this event. The issues around radio pranks and the impact these can have on the unsuspecting public and on people's individuals lives is a debate to be had. But what really gets me over this event is how much media coverage it has generated in comparison to other stories at the time i.e recent flooding in the Philippines, missing people = 900. Where is our compassion, thoughts, and mass coverage of this event in the MSM?


jo7 said...

add to the 900 people missing, 600 dead when Typhoon Bopha hit the main southern island of Mindanao, add to this the number of people now in need of clean water, housing .......


Anonymous said...

What everyone seems to have forgotten are the cultural nuances in this issue:
i. British nastiness in dealing with "underlings" esp. in a hospital workplace
ii. the nurse was an Indian ("Pakis" the British racists call them).
and the sexist overtones in this whole business. YOU CAN BET this woman was HOUNDED and SHAMED to death by her overlord employers.