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Radio hoaxes in question after royals prank death

Sunday 9 Dec 2012 4:18 p.m.

The future of the radio prank is under threat, following the suicide of a nurse believed to have put a hoax phone call through to the hospital ward where the Duchess of Cambridge was suffering from morning sickness.

British media are slamming the Aussie hosts behind the stunt, and now New Zealand radio networks are reviewing policies.

Forty-six-year-old Jacintha Saldanha is believed to have transferred a hoax radio call to the Duchess of Cambridge's ward.

In a letter to today, the hospital condemned Aussie shock-jocks Mel Craig and Michael Christian for even considering it.

“The immediate consequences of these premeditated and ill-considered actions was the humiliation of two dedicated and caring nurses who were simply doing their job tending to their patients,” says hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur.

The long-term consequence, Lord Glenarthur wrote, was "frankly, tragic beyond words”. The nurse's family in India are understandably devastated.

“I'll really miss her a lot,” says her relative. “She was a good-natured sister-in-law. I can't forget her. She was so good. She was beautiful and she and her husband were great together.”

While the Aussie hosts have been forced off-air and offered counselling, the tragic fallout of their call has raised the question: when does a prank go too far?

Retired broadcaster Paul Holmes knows all too well, sacked over a hoax call to the Archbishop of Canterbury back in 1976.

“I was there in the glory days of the ‘70s and ‘80s of who you could reach, who you could get on air, but you'd never think for a minute you were going to cause someone the kind of distress that would lead them to take their life,” says Mr Holmes.

Mr Holmes says it was a major security breach by the hospital, and blame shouldn't lie squarely on the hosts.

“They went to air with the approval of the legals and the management. You can't vilify them.”

But perhaps more caution was needed.

“You've got to be real careful going near the royals, particularly when there's a baby involved who will one day be a king or queen.”

Despite numerous calls to Kiwi broadcasting personalities, Mr Holmes was the only one who agreed to or was allowed to talk to us. It seems radio bosses are nervous about any more bad publicity.

But The Radio Network, which runs the likes of ZM, Hauraki and Classic Hits, has admitted its editorial content will probably be tightened. Mediaworks, owner of The Rock, which does “Wind Up Your Wife Wednesday”, is reminding staff about protocols and consent processes.

It turns out even the Australian Prime Minster is a prankster.

“I'm confident in triple J’s prediction that the world is about to end,” jokes Julia Gillard, “whether the final blow comes from flesh-eating zombies, demonic hell beasts or from the total triumph of k-pop.”

But Prince William and his expecting wife have had enough of Australian pranksters. The royal mother-to-be is reportedly very upset by the nurse's death.

3 News

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