Posted: December 10, 2012 in Current Events
Tags: , ,

In the days leading up to the suicide of the nurse involved in the royal prank call nobody made a single comment about the prank being inappropriate.  If anything it was considered to be a clever action to find out a little information about the condition of Kate Middleton.  There was no malicious intent.

Then came the suicide of, not the nurse who actually conducted the interview (who had much more reason to feel victimized), but the one that transferred the call, Jacintha Saldanha.  Admittedly the suicide is sad and tragic, but the outpouring of indignation against the Australian DJs who made the call is overly righteous and hypocritical.  If it were such a heinous act, then why didn’t we see one single objection to it prior to the suicide?

Morality doesn’t work that way, -at least not for adults.  Basing the judgement of an action on the accidental outcome rather than on the intent or the inherent moral quality of the action is nonsense.  There was no intent or expectation that the call would be more than an mild embarrassment.

As for the inherent moral quality, some debate is warranted.  Is it right to dupe people on a radio or TV show, make them look foolish and then broadcast the episode without their consent?  Well, it’s done all the time.  I can remember hearing bits on CFNY where a prominent Toronto chef was called and duped into agreeing to making groundhog stew on Groundhog Day if the customer brought in their own groundhog.  (I always wondered if the chef had perhaps lost his job for embarrassing the restaurant.)  Or the Chinese restaurant where the manager was driven into hysteria when trying to figure out the time for a reservation on the weekend when the time changed.  Back in the 60s a celebrity named Art Linkletter had a TV show called “People Are Funny”, where he duped innocent people, making them look alarmed or foolish.  I’m sure Howard Stern has his fair share of similar radio shenanigans.  It’s an old radio bit.

I think an important question is whether these embarrassing moments are broadcast with or without the consent of the victim.  If it is done with consent, then there is no issue.  If it is done without consent, then the potential for embarrassing consequences or other problems might arise.  Given the power of the media, it isn’t really fair for an unsuspecting (non-public) figure to be duped on stage, especially in the modern world where YouTube videos can go viral.  I don’t know for sure, but I would suspect that it is a violation of some sort of privacy and may be open to legal consequences.  You wouldn’t want to have someone lose their job over something like this, and that should have been a very real concern for the Australian DJs when they made the call.

That being said, the fact that the first nurse ended up taking her own life, as tragic as it is, is an unforeseeable consequence and should not really enter into the judgement of the hoax.  It is quite possible that bullying by the hospital or co-workers, or perhaps personal problems may have been at least an equal factor.  Although one would want to respect the privacy of this sad individual, collateral consequences will probably demand that her life be the subject of some scrutiny in the upcoming weeks, and we may discover that the phone call was the final straw, not the cause.  It is not morally correct to lay the blame on that final straw.

I might speculate that the social outrage is more a matter of mass guilt.  Everyone enjoyed the hoax in the days before the suicide, thinking it clever and quaint.  We feel ashamed and therefor want to blame somebody.



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