On Death And Blame. And Stop It Already.

by Lori Dwyer on December 8, 2012 · 24 comments

Just when I think it may be safe to celebrate Christmas… that dirty ‘s word. It’s everywhere.

If you happened to have (how?) missed it, a boring Australian radio station that plays thoroughly homogenized Top 40 hits continued to appeal to the lowest common denominator earlier this week. A stupid prank call, complete with dodgy accents and absurd references to corgis. In fact, the corgi references began at about the same time the two relatively green (in fact, the male of the duo– what was his name again?– was presenting his first ever radio drive shift) radio hosts seemed to realize this had been far too easy, and the pitch of their voices hit panic level as they tried to get themselves caught out. Evidently, it shouldn’t have gone that far, and the perpetrators weren’t expecting it to. Obviously. That’s not the way prank calls work, traditionally.

And it’s such immature, back of the classroom, stupid humor. I don’t think anyone expected much more from the radio station in question– this was, without doubt, one of the least offensive stunts they’ve endorsed over the last few years. Think about this one in terms of that complete cultural f*ck up that was the KFC commercial of 2010. If this week’s phone call had been made to an Australian hospital under the pretense of a bad British accent, using a commoner’s communication and in regards to the well being of a much-loved princess and her unborn child; the response of the nurse or receptionist on the end of the line would be to roll their eyes and mutter something about having ‘real work to do’ before slamming down the handset to a swelling symphony of an engaged tone and raucous laughter piped over the airwaves.

But not in the UK, especially not with the recent heat put on British tabloids and paps. Especially not at some unGodly our of the morning. There was no expectation of that kind if stunt, no understanding– and therefore no ingrained cultural wariness– of such a ridiculously Australian joke (”relaxed but uncouth” seems to be the general verdict).

A radio prank call that divulges the medical information of an individual was enough for this three minutes of audio to get a huge dose of headlines. When one of the nurses– not the nurse responsible for divulging confidential information, simply the woman that transferred the call– takes her own life just three days later… that’s so far from funny, I want to be sick. People of the public– the Twitterati in particular– are baying for the guts and innards of two afternoon disc jockeys. The general consensus is that they have ’blood on their hands’.

And I say to that– bullshit. 

Years ago, sitting in a social work class, someone round me broached  The Question, the one that danced in the back of your mind but you didn’t want to think too much about. What happens if someone kills themselves? What happens if they come to you for counseling and that night they die? And our lecturer responded, slowly and clearly, making every word count, “None of us are so powerful that we can cause another person to take their life. No one is singularly capable of doing that.”

If hundreds of people can come to this blog, read my story and tell me my husband’s death was not my fault, when I was just feet away from him and we were arguing hard… Then how can anyone hold these two relatively insignificant people responsible for the life of someone who they interacted with for only a few short seconds, half a world away, on the end of an international phone line? It’s not possible. It’s not logical.

I’m not arguing that this wasn’t stupid, disrespectful, offensive and whatever else you can throw at it thing to do in the first place– it was. But this is not something that could be foreseen. Journalists (using the term arguably in this instance) cannot be held responsible for micro–managing the emotions of every person they come into contact with. There was no breach of this particular woman’s privacy here. The violation was in broadcasting confidential medical details, and exposing the ineptitude of one institution’s handling of incoming phone calls. It’s sad beyond sad that the outcome was this woman losing her life. And I can say that because I’ve been here (am here), I know first hand. But blame can’t be thrown on radio hosts… any more than it can be poured on me.

Perhaps– in fact, in all logical probability– it was that prank phone call, and the ensuing fall out, that provided the ‘final straw’ for the UK nurse. But if that last back breaking straw had been, for example, a traffic offense or a speeding fine; would we lay the blame on the copper who wrote the ticket?

To quote Gawker, the main cause of suicide is life. And unfortunately, life has a way of throwing down final straws, in all their forms, all over the place, every day.

post signature

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Marla February 8, 2013 at 5:51 pm

It can be applied as part of oils, candle lights and uses important oils to aid relaxed the
body, it not only smells good – and is relaxing as part of itself, but
inaddition it has chemically therapeutic effects regarding the figure.
A crate trained dog definitely will perpetually try to be welcome and additionally protected as part
of his crate whenever you are away the house. This style of panic is definitely normally restricted in order to the time of reduction and also will progressively disappear.


Marie December 14, 2012 at 5:34 pm

I totally agree with the person who wrote the Anonymous comment that started with "I don't think the two idiots killed her." I hadn't even considered taking into account her culture and background – in India honour killings are common if you bring shame to your family. And boy was she shamed.

No you can't blame the DJs, I do blame the station head honchos who aired the call – no you can't directly cause a suicide, but playing a "prank" (and sorry, a prank call is something like "is your refrigerator running" not tricking someone into giving out highly confidential information) that will cause public humiliation and put a career in jeopardy has to be punished whether suicide was involved or not. And there are some situations where suicide can be blamed on someone, namely bullying (one school had a "lets make this kid kill herself day and she did it. Yes, people are that powerful.) Your situation is different Lori, there's no way it was your fault.


Belinda December 11, 2012 at 11:44 pm

It was the British media who called for the nurse to be sacked for transferring the call, then as soon as she killed herself they all turned on the two Aussie radio hosts and blamed them!

This woman obviously had alot of other stuff going on in her life, all she did was transfer the call, she wasn't the one spilling the beans on the Duchess' medical status.

Prank calls happen all the time on radio, to blame a death or suicide on the pranksters is just absurd. The British have a tradition of turning on us Aussies at the slightest opportunity, splashing headlines across their newpapers for every conceivable sin against the Queen and country.

Remember that headline years ago in the days of having Paul Keating as the PM? "HANDS OFF OUR QUEEN"! because the PM touched Her Majesty's back in a courteous way but without realising what he was doing. You'd think he had cut her right arm off the way they carried on.


Anonymous December 10, 2012 at 11:19 pm

First of all, I totally agree with you. While this was stupid, thoughtless and lots more besides, no one person has the ability to make another person choose to end their life. My first thought after hearing about this on the news was, "what was going on in that poor woman's (the nurse's) life that she felt she had to end it all?" I refuse to believe that this crank call was singularly responsible. That said, I do hope people who think this kind of thing is actually funny will think twice before causing a complete stranger undue stress and (very public) humiliation.

Second, I just read your Twitter feed. I am so, so, so, SO sorry about George! You are so right – the Universe owes you and your kids huge. HUGE. (((HUG)))

– Crystal


Anonymous December 10, 2012 at 11:08 pm

My concern is that after the 'prank' the radio station does not seek permission to air it ? Some won't be happy but it's a lot more respectful and ethical to at least ask the person if they can air the joke ? Its media training 101. On and off the record etc. additionally as Lori said handing over medical records are the bigger issue here. The right to privacy v freedom of speech ? Can we have it both ways ? Darrell


Karyn December 10, 2012 at 3:06 pm

So very much agree with what you've written here.


Emily December 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm

So very well written. Thank you. Agree wholeheartedly.


Sue December 10, 2012 at 10:56 am

It's such fundamental common sense that it baffles me that you are even having to write this post in the first place.

The whole way the media has presented this as if the woman's suicide is linked in any way is just ridiculous. Time to ditch them and start again.


Emma December 10, 2012 at 4:09 am

I completely agree but feel so terribly sorry for her and her family :-(


Anonymous December 10, 2012 at 2:53 am

I don't think the two idiots killed her. I do think they set out whoring for attention at the expense of another human being, and they knowingly caused humiliation in a extremely public manner, especially in the after math, after their insincere apology followed by another string of obnoxious promotion of the event, trying to capitalize and gain fame by rubbing in her incompetence at recognizing different English accent, these series of decisions and actions were far from innocent. You can't pretend they didn't think it would cause shame and humiliation and suffering, they just didn't think it would be enough to cause suicide.

And honestly, let's say she really suffered for it but not enough to kill herself. Would it be okay to cause that much distress to a stranger whose mental state you don't know, just to get the world to pay attention to you? The DJ wanted the spotlight, and even now they're gloating and capitalizing on it, in the mean time their non-consenting victim was crushed in the attention that she did not seek nor welcome.

They couldn't have known how much humiliation would drive a person to commit suicide; as an Asian brought up to value honor over life, duty over self, I find it entirely reasonable (if not expected) to commit suicide after having brought shame to an organization I represent. As an ESL, I can also relate to the humiliation of living in an English speaking country and having my imperfect command of English brought into the spotlight.

I've never understood this kind of humor. On the rare occasion when I'm stuck in someone's car and have to listen to this sort of program, I always feel sorry for the victim they pranked.


Rebecca December 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm

I feel sorry for the nurse and the presenters, it's all blown so out of proportion!! A silly prank, a nurse who isn't perfect..I'm a nurse, (all this nonsense about confidentiality!! it is not black and white at all) and a young woman with morning sickness. The hounding of all involved and the bullying attitude of self righteous people, they should be ashamed. When did the British press ever care about the Royal Family's privacy..and I'm English. Saddens me altogether, well said Lori x x


Kimberley M December 9, 2012 at 4:53 pm

Hear hear, my lovely. I think you are spot on. Can't wait to see you in March and give you a gigantic hug – I completely agree with you. 100%. Kx


Kylie December 9, 2012 at 4:07 pm

For me it highlighted the stupidity of these calls. I don't blame the dj's, I feel terrible sadness for the nurse and her family. What is does highlight is how a radio announcer cannot know the mental health state of those they call and the terrible effect public humiliation can have on some one already struggling. I've never found radio prank calls funny and its one of the reasons I no longer listen to commercial radio. The best way to prevent this sort of thing – stop prank calls!


Molly December 9, 2012 at 2:49 pm

I agree with Kelloggs Ville. And you cannot compare this to a parking ticket ever….


Ms.Ambivalent December 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

I agree no one bears responsibility. But I have heartfelt sympathy for the nurse. I have been the 'phone person' a few times in my life, and made many embarassing missteps due to lack of training, unfamiliarity with the industry, being 'out of the loop' with management, gullibility and trying too hard. Or 'just not thinking'. Lucky for me, these errors never made the international news.


Sarah December 9, 2012 at 12:56 pm

You know Lori as a social worker I often feel the weight of the world on my shoulders when people share their thoughts about ending their life but I also see that in removing my own feelings of self importance my job is only to be a sounding board for others, a safe place to talk through all the layers, what they do next is out of my hands. The fault doesn't lay in the hands of the ones that made or took the phone call, no one is at fault.


Joey December 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm

It's great to hear another perspective. Very refreshing! I love that last quote. It sums the whole thing up perfectly. Fantastic piece!


Kelloggs Ville December 9, 2012 at 12:17 pm

This was not a 'prank'. It was a deliberate attempt to breach security and obtain personal information that they weren't entitled to. It is not a joke. It is an intention to underhandedly deceive and cannot be defended on any level. I'm am sure the nurse had many things happening in her life and this was not a main cause, it would however appear to be a catalyst. You are totally wrong about British cultural awareness and whilst I respect your experience, you cannot defend the indefensible especially given the presenters total lack of remorse in their recent quotes. They may not have blood on their hands but they should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, with or without a death involved.


BUSH BABE December 9, 2012 at 11:53 am

I tweeted something similar yesterday and nodded the entire way through this post. I have been close to those who have suicided (though not as close as you) and know a terrible concoction of many things add up to that state of mind and outcome. No one thing.

People need to quite baying for blood every time something bad happens. What are we? Dingoes? I think the acronym and old school advice holds true: if you cannot say something nice then STFU.


Miss Pink December 9, 2012 at 8:27 am

Lori, this is one of the things I adore about you. You and I, we think on the same wavelength. It was a stupid prank, and maybe it should have been better thought through and simply not done, but I do not think that the blame for the woman taking her life is anyone's fault. At the end of the day she was the person who acted.
I just think terrible occurances like this add to the cotton wool syndrome our kids are growing up in. We are hyer aware of mental illness sometimes and so we are too scared to say something stupid, or make mistakes because it may cost someone their life or last shred of self esteem or something.
It was a stupid prank, but they couldn't predict that it would cause someone to take their life, and I am positive that wasn't their intention.


Anonymous December 9, 2012 at 7:09 am

The British media got onto this story when it first happened and ran with it. It was just a bit of a joke story in the Australian media and would have died down after a day or so. But the British papers had it as their lead story for the three days before she killed herself. They also invited comments from readers which meant there were tons of comments calling both nurses 'stupid' for being duped. The British media hyped it up and this is the result.


Amy xxoo December 9, 2012 at 6:48 am

I agree Lori. I had this conversation with my mum earlier today because she was of the opinion that the that DJs ' made the nurse kill herself '. I told her there had to have been other underlying issues and yes the call may have tipped her over the edge….. But how were the callers to know that? They were a bit silly and immature but they didn't do anything maliciously….


binajabber December 9, 2012 at 3:27 am

I'm so glad someone is pointing this out. Thank you!


becca December 9, 2012 at 1:17 am

I'm here in Canada, and the bit that seems be be swept under the rug is the fact that she was the *transferring* call. I agree, that even if she was the nurse who gave the info, it *still* wasn't their fault. And as tragic as it is that she felt she needed to kill herself, I actually LOL'd (in shock) when I read here that it was the transferring call.

I disagree with your sentiment about Britt vs. Aust, and the ensuing outcome (divulging info)terribly uncouth Radio prank calls happen here (what!? in Canada? the *nice* people!?), they must happen there too. They got a couple of tired end of shift (daft???) nurses who got so excited at the fact they where talking to royalty, they stopped thinking and just did it.


Previous post:

Next post: