Did the hospital prank victim die of shame?

The suicide of an Indian-born nurse at the King Edward VII’s Hospital, who had been the victim of an Australian radio phone prank, raises many questions. Not the least of which is – how could something so inane affect this poor woman so tragically?

Did she die of shame? Her migrant and cultural background is a clue. But that’s not letting the juvenile radio station off the hook. The hospital prank victim leaves behind a bewildered and grieving family.

Jacintha Saldanha, 46, a nurse at the London private hospital treating Catherine,  the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge who was suffering from extreme morning sickness, was found dead three days after taking the hoax call from the 2Day FM presenters Mel Grieg and Michael Christian. They pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles, wanting to get information about Catherine.

The logic of targeting a pregnant woman in hospital for a radio prank is highly questionable.

According to media reports, Ms Saldanha emigrated to Britain nine years ago, long enough to settle into the English way of life.  She was a committed Catholic. The chances are that she had also faithfully retained the social and cultural expectations of her Indian upbringing. Women in conservative, traditional cultures are expected to be the moral guardians of the family and to guard their honour at all times, including not being the focus of gossip, scandal or innuendo. Suddenly, BAM, she’s headline news.

Travel does broaden the mind, and enables many people to make productive lives in countries far away. In my experience (I’ve been a migrant twice) you take your core values from home to the new place and these remain intact, as you go through the tumultuous adjustment process of finding your feet in a foreign country.

It can also be very confusing, being a migrant and trying to understand the mentality of a culture light years from your own. It’s easy to feel vulnerable.  And the brash world of commercial radio may not have been something she was familiar with.

Ms Saldanha didn’t tell her family of the prank phone call, possibly because she felt she had let people down, including her family, her employer and the royal patient. Did she feel she had dishonoured her family and community? I can only imagine her horror and humiliation mounting by the hour as the headlines loomed large in every British newspaper and the news spread like wildfire around the world.

Is it possible  she felt so humiliated that she felt she had no choice but to take this drastic and fatal step? She leaves behind her husband and a son aged 16, and a daughter, 14.

After the stunt, the DJs spent the next few days exercising bragging rights, boasting on Twitter and even demanding that listeners wanting a particular song to be played on their show to call in and ask for it in an English accent. Oh yes, they were loving every minute of it. For hours after the nurse’s death, the audio of the call was still available on the station’s website.

And that’s the thing about radio phone pranks in Australia, and worldwide. The DJs laud their prowess at successfully humiliating a hapless member of the public. Playing the public bully boys. Their ratings soar.  Here it’s seen as good old fashioned Australian larrikinism writ large.

In a letter to Max Moore-Wilson, chairman of Southern Cross Austereo which owns 2Day FM, the hospital chairman Lord Glenarthur said: “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.”

Southern Cross Austereo has  insisted it did nothing wrong and it had not broken any broadcasting standard rules. Surely the Australian Communications and Media Authority  needs to start re-examining those standards. This ain’t over yet, not by a long shot.

* Readers seeking support and info about suicide prevention: beyondblue.org.au  is a national, independent, not-for-profit organisation working to address issues associated with depression, anxiety and related disorders in Australia.

16 thoughts on “Did the hospital prank victim die of shame?

  1. OMG I didn’t know about this. This is terrible news indeed. My condolences to the woman’s suffering family. I hope the DJs will NEVER be allowed back on the airwaves


  2. My heart goes out to this poor woman’s family. This is tragic beyond belief. Don’t believe that the radio peeps could ever have foreseen such an outcome though. they’re so pumped by their own power they’re insensitive to the hurt feelings they cause. British media overdoing the outrage now and they’ve sent reporters to find the DJs in Oz. What a shit fight


  3. I think she died of shame. RIP Jacintha Saldanha. My deepest sympathy goes to her family. No sympathy goes to Australian radio.


  4. Hey I just read this at the http://www.dailymail.co.uk

    The family of the tragic nurse in the royal hospital hoax believe she died of shame. Jacintha Saldanha’s brother Naveen told the Daily Mail that his devoutly Catholic sister was a ‘proper and righteous person’.

    She would have been ‘devastated’ at unwittingly assisting a colleague in breaching medical confidentiality over the condition of the Duchess of Cambridge.

    Good work, Taste for Travel.


  5. It’s illegal in Australia to record someone’s phone conversation without their consent. The criminal offence is …. whether they should have been recording a phone conversation with a person without their consent in the first place. If they didn’t get consent they SHOULD NOT have broadcast it


  6. Thanks for this! I saw the name, and I thought that was the reason the poor woman didn’t pick up on the awful accents.
    However, I do think this woman had other issues as well. How selfish to leave 2 children without a mother!
    And I suspect that the other nurses (nurses are a special breed of human) weren’t as ‘supportive’ as they claim to be…


  7. That was an interesting take, Heather. People keep portraying this poor woman as having been overly fragile/mentally unhealthy – but I agree with you, that culture can play a major part in how people are likely to respond to these situations. It’s pretty messed up the expectation that everybody should be equipped to face the kind of public humiliation that used to only be meted out to celebrities – or face accusations of being mentally ill.

    I would lay the blame at the station’s lawyer’s feet. It’s madness to clear a prank like that being broadcast without the consent of the pranked person being obtained. Not that either she or the hospital would have likely given consent.


  8. If the radio station is supposed to get permission from the pranked person, then clearly that didn’t happen. Being the victim of a media prank affects different people differently. Not everyone is media wise. Not many people know how to deal with the savagery of the media. This nurse strikes me as someone sheltered, devout and not someone who wanted to draw attention to herself.


  9. Commercial radio has a Lord of the Flies mentality, and savages the weak. The first radio prank is believed to have been Orson Wells’ War of the World broadcast in 1937 when people believed aliens had touched down and were about to stomp humanity into oblivion


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