It was 5.30 in the morning on Tuesday, the 4th of December, and the phone rang at the switchboard of the King Edward VII Hospital in London. The nurse on duty answers.
It was 5.30 in the morning on Tuesday, the 4th of December, and the phone rang at the switchboard of the King Edward VII Hospital in London. The nurse on duty answers. “Could I please speak to Kate please?” the woman on the line asks. The call is transferred, and a conversation is held with the Duchess’ private nurse disclosing her medical condition.
Unbeknownst to the hospital, the woman on the other line was not the Queen, but Mel Greig, an Australian DJ impersonating the Queen. Her colleague Michael Christian was impersonating Prince Charles. The call went live to listeners during their programme on 2Day FM in Sydney. “If this has worked, it’s the easiest prank call we’ve ever made,” Christian remarks whilst their on hold. “I’m not used to playing old 80 year olds,” Greig replied.
The nurse on duty was Jacintha Saldanha, and three days after that call was broadcast, Saldanha, who was married and had two children, was found dead. News of her death reverberated around the world.
In a statement from St. James’s Palace, a spokesperson for the Duke and Duchess said they were saddened by the event. “The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha,” the statement read. “Their Royal Highnesses were looked after so wonderfully well at all times by everybody at King Edward VII Hospital, and their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues at this very sad time.”
According to a report from the BBC, the hospital had not taken any action against Saldanha because of the incident. “Everyone is shocked by the loss of a much loved and valued colleague,” the hospital’s chief executive John Lofthouse said according to the BBC report.
Yet, the other immediate question of this event was on the station which broadcast the call, and what action would be taken. In a statement on its Facebook page, 2Day FM and parent company Southern Cross Austereo said they were shocked by the incident and that Greig and Christian would not return to their programme until further notice. “Southern Cross Austereo and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII’s Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world,” the statement read. “Chief Executive Officer Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters, they are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they not comment about the circumstances.”
Australia’s Communications minister Stephen Conroy confirmed that complaints had been made to the country’s independent regulator ACMA, or the Australian Communications and Media Authority. “The decision about whether to investigate the call for possible breaches of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice is one for the independent regulator,” Conroy said in a statement according to reports.
Later, ACMA’s chairman Chris Chapman said the incident was to be investigated. “The ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage, but will be engaging with the licensee around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call,” Chapman said in a statement.
The incident surrounding this broadcast has unearthed many unanswered questions, including whether changes will be made to Australian broadcast laws, or inquiries will be made. There has been no public announcement of this as of yet, but with this broadcast, the future of 2Day FM hangs in the balance, and perhaps along with it, a lesson in what should and should not be broadcast.