by Iain Maciver, former BBC radio DJ turned journalist
The outpouring of venom against the very funny and original duo on 2Day FM in Sydney, Australia, is completely unjustified. Their wind-ups were fast becoming the stuff of legend but a tragic sequence of events has put paid to that and possibly to their careers. To me, it is merely further evidence that, just as in medieval times, the less-intelligent among us will become a baying mob in the blink of an eye.
To properly judge Mel Greig and Michael Christian, as the mob fail to do, you should just ask if the pair set out out to cause harm. The answer has to be no. Why? The reason for their prank was obviously part of their remit to entertain a radio audience so it was neither done to cause harm, to deliberately cause offence nor to make a direct personal financial gain. If it somehow went badly wrong, as it did because of the tragedy when the nurse Jacintha Saldanha died, there was always a chance of public outrage but that is not the same as setting out to cause offence.
Until news came of her death, there was no real offence taken. The prank was called rude and cheeky and unfortunate by many. Some even dared to call it brave and exciting. Prince Charles made a joke about it. There was no official complaint by Prince William and his wife. We all just wanted to make sure it was not allowed to happen again. Now, incisors bared, online commenters who two days ago complained it was off-colour now say the pair were cruel, must be sacked and maintain hanging is too good for them.
Should they have done the prank in the first place? Probably not. There should have been, at the very least, a moment of reflection on the ethics of calling up a sick woman who was expecting a child and inquiring about her medical condition and thereby invading her privacy. I also understand the over-riding temptation because of who she was and the chance to impersonate Her Maj and Charlie Boy. Crikey. This was not Winnie from Wagga Wagga. However, they should have decided to wind up someone else that morning. But, purely in terms of radio pranks, it had everything. It was a cracker. Good onya, mate.
We are talking about Australia where the Royal Family is, if not derided, at least seen by most people as a quaint institution which their bizarrely-sycophantic British subjects prop up with ever-increasing stacks of money in handouts while cutting back on essential medical services like home carers for the elderly, pensions and road gritting when the ice comes. This, after all, is the country whose former premier Paul Keating thought nothing of touching the Queen’s back area in 1992. The British press went apoplectic. Poor Keating didn’t even understand what the fuss was about – like the rest of his fellow Aussies.
Lazy journalists have been pointing out the other breaches of regulations which the 2Day FM station has been castigated for in the last few years. Completely irrelevant, I would say. Greig and Christian were not involved in these pranks. This is a lively fun station – a bit like Radio 1 used to be before the dead hand of the bean counter and the ghastly and costly BBC Trust smothered its soul and contrived to give it the present politically-correct graveyard atmosphere which so few bother with if they have decent reception of another chart station. Retired generals think they are too jolly with these damned colonials making fun of Lillibet? Off with their heads.
It was proper though that the two DJs were sent home until the fuss dies down. That will take a few weeks but my fear is that original, breathtaking, awe-inspiring impromptu comedy on radio will now be suppressed in the Australia backlash. Bosses will come under pressure to crack the whip as they too quiver at threats of an advertising drought brought about by humourless droids. They may comply too readily. For those who pooh-pooh the idea and say that will not happen, wait and see. It has already happened and left stale airwaves in a land far away called the United Kingdom.