I was watching a shark feeding frenzy on tv last night. It wasn't a National Geographic documentary! Since British nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, allegedly committed suicide a few days after her unwitting involvement in a prank by Australian 2DayFM radio duo, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the tabloid predators have been feeding off public reaction along with their own concocted outrage.
As is commonly known, Ms Saldanha played a very minor part as the first of two nurses who were duped by Grieg and Christian into believing they were the Queen and Prince Charles respectively (listen to it here).The point of it all was to obtain rather bland information on Kate Middleton's condition while she was in hospital with morning sickness. Both have said they didn't think they would ever get away with the prank nor did they mean any harm. Depending on which paper you read, the ward nurse who gave out the info either laughed it off or was "terribly distressed". King Edward VII hospital claims it took no disciplinary action against the nurses.
The prank, while undoubtedly a bit childish was clearly meant to be harmless and done to amuse the radio station's youngish audience. Even Prince Charles had a laugh about it. But evidently, if we are to believe the press, Jacintha Saldanha's self esteem fell to pieces from the shame of being fooled by a couple of pretty awful impressionists, resulting in her inability to face another day. Certainly it's regrettable that she should end up feeling that way, but ridiculous nonetheless.
At the time of writing, no proof the prank is the cause of her death has been established, but that doesn't matter when a full blown witch hunt is in the offing. An avalanche of international rage has pressured 2DayFM into taking the two radio hosts off the air and suspend all advertisements as a mark of respect for the tragic death. Meanwhile there have been press biographies on Ms Saldanha's saintliness, reports of Di ... err Kate, the replacement people's princess, in tears, Scotland Yard is said to be in touch with Australian police, and the public has been baying for blood on FB & Twitter, some saying the pair should be lynched from a tree.
Given the reaction, it seems reasonable to ask whether the world or at least parts of the English speaking world have gone bonkers. A tear doth fall on a royal cheek and a sycophantic section of the masses sobs as one: "Sweet Di ... err, Kate, thine royal honour hath been besmirched, vengeance shall be ours". And the gutter press self servingly continues to whip up the frenzy with relish. There are already reports of British tabloid reporters jetting to Australia to 'hunt down' Grieg and Christian. Does anyone believe this issue would get even a fraction of the coverage without the royal connection? Meanwhile the social engineers wait in the wings ready to pounce.
Let's be clear about what this vicious blame-game is ultimately implying: that a prank or even telling a joke may have lethal consequences making everyone accountable for everyone else unless appropriate joke surveillance regulations are put in place. For example, telling a morning sickness gag on TV may drive an individual with morning sickness to suicide if they happen to be watching, thus making the comedian responsible. It doesn't take a sociologist to see where such an extreme idea could lead.
What we are seeing is an ugly combination of cynical press manipulation, vengeful mob hysteria and forelock tugging in the service of the myth of royalty. Those who condemn the radio presenters do so with language that makes their cause starkly hypocritical. Common sense is telling us that the only person responsible for nurse Jacintha Saldanha's fate was Jacintha Saldanha. Ms Saldanha, the committed Christian, the "victim" of a prank, was a victim of only one thing: her fragile mind.
Certainly words have consequences and we must be responsible in how we behave toward others, however, blaming a suicide on a prank that under any other circumstance would have been laughed off is a worrying sign of a growing self serving obsessiveness in sections of society. An ill chosen word can kill from 10,000 miles away? Perhaps, but should we shackle the spirit of fun just in case?