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.