Austereo responds to hospital over prank call tragedyWords: Ben Butler, Harriet Alexander, Julia Medew
The chairman of Southern Cross Austereo has written to the hospital that received Sydney radio station 2Day FM's notorious prank phone call to reassure them that immediate action would be taken over the incident.
But the station remains upset at the British press for conducting a "witch-hunt" against the two presenters responsible for the prank call, describing the backlash as "ferocious".
Following a crisis meeting on Sunday night, the station made public a letter chairman Max Moore-Wilton had written to the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, Lord Glenarthur.
Lord Glenarthur had earlier written to the station denouncing the stunt as "truly appalling".
Mr Moore-Wilton responded in his letter that the station was ''taking immediate action and reviewing the broadcast and processes involved''.
''It is too early to know the full details leading to this tragic event and we are anxious to review the results of an investigation that may be made available to us or made public.''
''We can assure you that we will be fully cooperative with all investigations.''
''We are all saddened by the events of the last few days. They are truly tragic.''
An Austereo spokeswoman said on Sunday night the radio duo who made the prank phone call were willing to comment on the matter.
"They have expressed a desire to speak,'' she said. ''We haven't ascertained when they're ready for that and how we're going to organise that, but they certainly want to.'
The station management refused to confirm whether the broadcasters would keep their jobs but said advertising would remain suspended until at least Wednesday while the board considered its position.
Austereo suspended all advertising on 2Day FM on Saturday in response to an advertiser boycott after the suspected suicide of British nurse Jacintha Saldanha, 46, who was taken in by the prank call. Ad sales revenue was already under pressure, slumping 10 per cent in the three months to the end of September.
The crisis meeting took place after Lord Glenarthur had written to Mr Moore-Wilton, deploring the hoax call, which sought information about the condition of Prince William's pregnant wife, Kate.
NSW Police said London police had contacted them about the call, and they had agreed to help with their investigation of the death.
By Sunday night, the network was fielding hundreds of objections, ranging from ''you've got blood on your hands'' abuse to questions about prank calls.
The Australian Communications and Media Authority confirmed the volume of complaints matched the outcry over Alan Jones saying the Prime Minister's father had died of shame and Kyle Sandilands's description of a female journalist as a ''fat slag''.
A spokeswoman for Austereo, Sandy Kaye, said Christian and Greig had been suspended indefinitely and were receiving intensive counselling. ''The backlash is just ferocious,'' she said. ''Australia seems to be much more balanced. In the UK it's like they're on a witch-hunt. It's intense and what's incredible to me is it's so much easier for the British media to have us as the target. They haven't once looked at the hospital.''
Lord Glenarthur urged Mr Moore-Wilton to take steps to ensure that the ''truly appalling'' broadcast of the hoax call ''could never be repeated''.
Mr Moore-Wilton said he would respond to the letter after discussions with the board.
A former senior public servant, Mr Moore-Wilton has been the chairman of Southern Cross Austereo, for which he is paid $250,000 a year, since 2007.
In that time, Austereo has been beset by on-air scandals, including multiple episodes involving Sandilands.
''We have taken action previously but, as I say, the chief executive officer is responsible for the operations of the organisation within the framework that the board broadly sets,'' Mr Moore-Wilton said. ''This is one part of our business ... It's one station in 80.''
Arrangements are being made to return Ms Saldanha's body to India. Ms Saldanha, who grew up in Goa, on India's west coast, married Benedict
Mr Barboza wrote about his devastation in a post on his Facebook account. ''I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances,'' he wrote.
Her mother-in-law, Carmine Barboza, said Ms Saldanha had not mentioned the prank, or its aftermath, to her family in India.
"Everything seemed normal," she said. "But then we got a call last night from Benedict informing us that Jacintha had died. He was crying and couldn't speak much.''
Friends in her home town told reporters Ms Saldanha was a caring woman who always put the needs of others first. "She'd make sure others were comfortable or had eaten their food before looking into her own needs," a neighbour, Albert Fernandes, said.
Mental health groups said it was important to reach out to people who were depressed or distressed because the tragedy might stir suicidal feelings.
A spokesman for Lifeline Australia, John Mendel, said managers taking calls in recent days had heard from several people talking about the incident in the context of their own struggles.
''This can have an impact on other people in society, including people who have been bullied … It can bring these thoughts to the surface again,'' Mr Mandel said.
Lifeline’s phone number is 131 114, or visit beyondblue.org.au.
Lead image via Facebook, via The Sydney Morning Herald.