Comedy is all about timing. In the incident of the silly joke phone call by two radio presenters pretending to be members of British Royal Family, comedic value comes from whether you view the incident before or after the suicide of Jacintha Saldanha. Yet, there is a greater timing issue involved, one that the 2Day presenters could not be expected to understand the full impact of: A timing the British media are playing down in the hope that no one will notice.
News events that set two otherwise friendly nations in conflict are rare; rarer still: friendly nations that speak the same language. When these events happen, they grant those of us who analyse news reporting, scarce opportunities to pinpoint and offer fine examples of biased reporting. Never has this been more apparent than the phone call from 2Day FM in Australia to the King George V11 hospital.
Before the suicide, in the UK, the call was seen as something disrespectful to the Royal Family; with the tabloid press heading the charge of outrage. It was clear The Royal family saw the funny side of it, with Prince Charles making a witty, playful comment about the incident. In Australia, the call was either seen as a silly and somewhat pathetic attempt at entertainment or something of a coop for the young broadcasters involved.
After the suicide, the divide of reporting styles grew further. How the call is described is very distinct. In the UK, it’s a ‘hoax call’ suggesting something more sinister than the ‘prank call’ as the Australian media describe it. The UK press has been vitriolic in its criticism of the radio presenters: Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the station and the company that owns it.
In Australia and the UK, there has been some public condemnation of the Greig and Christian, some of it more venomous in Australia than the UK media; including death threats. In the main, however, Australian media has been questioning the entertainment value of the programme and the use of prank calls, in general. The connection to the Royal Family and concerns for the expectant mother are almost none existent in Australia, yet is pervasive in the UK media; with the UK press reporting public demands that the presenters and all else involved “apologise, not only to the nurse’s family, but to the Royal couple!”
What you don’t find in the UK media, unlike in Australia, is any question or interest in the nurse’s state of mind. The general consensus in Australia is: There must have been some underlying problems for this to have led to her suicide.
Yet, the most crucial piece of timing in all of this comedy of errors, is one that the Australian media have not really picked up on, which suggests it doesn’t understand the significances; neither would the young Australian presenters. All of this has happened at a time when British news media is undergoing something of a mini-crisis.
The BBC has been shaken by the Jimmy Savile paedophile scandal, which has seen heads roll in BBC news. The corporation has also been embarrassed by errors in its reporting on Syria. To top it all off, there has been the Levesen Inquiry, which has resulted in a national debate over whether the press industry should be legislated.
The UK press is infatuated with British Royalty. The Daily Mail recently devoted the nine pages of one edition to the pre-birth; speculating on possible names and even possible toys for the current embryo. This level of obsession could be seen by some as press hounding of all those involved, even those with minor roles – such as nurses at the hospital.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is resisting public pressure to impose legislative control of the so-called British ‘free’ press, which is primarily owned by the Australian, Murdoch. Any suggestion that the British press may be part-responsible for the suicide, would effectively force Cameron to bow to public pressure.
The last thing the UK news media wants is any hint that their treatment of the nurses had in anyway added to the stress which caused one of them to end it all. ‘Press Harassment Causes Death Linked to Royal Family’. Sounds familiar? If you haven’t made the connection, the British press want to keep it that way.
Mel Greig and Michael Christian never meant to cause harm. It is blatantly obvious they are devastated by the suicide. The British media needs to take a more measured, less-speculative and more fact-filled approach. Because there can be only a few fragments of news media more hypocritical in its moral outrage than the British news media.