Royal hoax: Radio DJs taken off air, ads suspended amid prank backlash

Two Australian radio jockeys, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who made a hoax call to the hospital pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, have been taken off the air as a mark of respect after the nurse who took the call apparently killed herself, the Sunday Morning Herald reported.

The station and the hosts "have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy", 2Day FM and its owners Southern Cross Austereo said in a statement.

Jacintha Saldanha, said to be of Indian-origin, answered the phone when presenters from Sydney's 2Day FM called pretending to be Queen Elizabeth II and William's father Prince Charles, before passing it onto a colleague who divulged details of Kate's condition.

According to the report, Greig and Christian apologised for their "lighthearted" prank, but have been bombarded with online abuse and have since disabled their Twitter accounts.

Southern Cross Austereo has also suspended all advertising on 2Day FM following the death of a nurse.

Earlier supermarket giant Coles and Telstra pulled advertising from 2Day FM as the fallout from the royal prank call continues, the Daily Telegraph reported.

"We understand Australians are clearly angry and upset by what appear to be tragic consequences of the 2Day FM UK hospital prank,'' Coles said on its Facebook page.

While the CEO of the Australian radio station did term the incident at tragic, he said presenters could not have "reasonably foreseen" the events which unfolded.

"We are very confident that we haven't done anything illegal. We are satisfied that the procedures we have in place have been met. Our main concern at this point in time is that what has happened is deeply tragic and we are incredibly saddened and we are incredibly affected by that," he is quoted as saying by the Guardian.

Prince William and Kate Middleton.  Reuters

Jacintha, who was helping out on reception at the time of the prank, answered the hoax call at 5.30 am on Wednesday morning.

An ambulance and police officers outside the block of flats in London where nurse Jacintha Saldanha lived. Saldanha, who was of Indian origin, was found dead two days after she was duped into transferring a hoax call to Kate Middleton’s room at the hospital where she worked.

After dialling the hospital, Greig asks if she could please speak to Kate, “my grand-daughter”.

Jacintha responds calmly  and requests the caller — in an easily distinguishable Indian accent – to hold on while she transfers the call.

Greig then gets through to Kate’s hospital room, where a second nurse answers the call.

The early part of the conversation goes thus:

Greig, pretending to be the Queen: “Kate my darling, are you there?”

Nurse: “Good morning ma’am, this is a nurse speaking. How may I help you?”

Greig: “Hello, I’m just after my granddaughter Kate, I wanted to see how her little tummy bug is going.”

The unsuspecting nurse says that Kate is asleep, and goes on to give intimate details of Kate’s medical condition, including the fact that she had been dehydrated and was recovering.

At one point, Christian, pretending to be Prince Charles, too comes on the line and asks when it might be a good time to come by the hospital. The nurse says that perhaps after 9 may be a good time.

When the nurse reveals that Kate was having difficulty sleeping in a strange hospital bed, Christian jokes: “Yes, of course. It’s hardly the palace, is it!” Cackling and hooting, Greig and Christian then disconnected the call and gloated over their prank and their fake British accents.

It may have been just a joke, but it was clearly a joke that went too far.

Even before the tragedy involving Saldanha became known, there had been an outpouring of outrage that the radio hosts had resorted to this sort of a prank, and that the channel continued to promote its prank call on air. The station called it “the prank call the world is talking about” before playing clips of news programmes reporting on the original call.

Updated Date: Dec 08, 2012 12:54 PM

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