Should Those Australian Radio Hosts Be Fired?

This is the question being debated in radio circles today.  Should Mel Greig and Michael Christian lose their jobs over the prank call that allegedly led to a nurse at Kate Middleton’s hospital taking her own life?

Put aside the emotion and the tragic outcome aside for a second.  Let’s think it through:

1. Prank calls by radio hosts is as old as the medium itself.  This one didn’t start out any different than tens of thousands of similar pranks played by announcers across the planet

2. There is no way–NO WAY–this call should have succeeded.  The fact that people at the hospital fell for the gag–a claim that the Queen herself was on the phone, complete with a terrible, terrible accent–says more about them than the jocks making the call.

3.  Before the nurse died, this gag was hailed as one of the great prank bits of all time.  I don’t know about that, but it was up there.  It made global headlines, which is something of a Holy Grail for a radio station. Greig and Christian were radio heroes.  Then someone died, apparently at her own hand, as a result of shame and embarrassment of being duped. This was totally unexpected and terribly, terribly sad.

4. And let’s be very clear about the circumstances.  If this prank call had not involved British royalty, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.

So again I ask:  should Greig and Christian be fired?  

There are several things to consider:

Did they break station policy or do something they weren’t supposed to do?

No.  They were just being DJs.  Like I said, making prank calls is a standard bit practiced all over the world. And the decision to air the call was made by someone else higher in the food chain.

Did they mean to cause physical harm to someone?

Of course not.  It was just a bit.

Do they feel bad about what happened?

According to reports I’ve read, they’re devastated.  Check out this interview they gave.

What about all the hate flowing towards them and the radio station from listeners, monarchists and advertisers?

Regrettable, but expected.  But again, if the royals weren’t involved, we wouldn’t see a backlash of this magnitude.

Bottom line:  Should Greig and Christian be sacrificed for successfully executing a station-sanctioned stunt to appease the haters and to take the heat off those who decided to run the clip? I have a feeling we still don’t know the entire story.

If I were their PD, I’d first work to create some kind of accomodation (off-the-air suspension, perhaps a shift reassignment), but it’s would be hard to justify their outright dismissal.  Yes, the outcome of the bit was shocking and sad.  Yes, prank calls rank a Bart Simpson on the juvenile scale.  But it all comes down to this: they were just doing their jobs.  

If accomodation wasn’t possible for whatever reason, then my solution would be to offer a generous contract payout and a goodbye handshake.  That’s not the same as firing, but it would give both parties a chance to recover and start over.

Here’s another take on the subject.  Feel free to weigh in.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

6 thoughts on “Should Those Australian Radio Hosts Be Fired?

  • December 10, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    I tweeted my reaction this morning and I am disgusted that the bank roll (advertisers) pulled out because of this prank call. I agree that it was the most unfortunate result of the nurse killing herself, but the DJ's weren't responsible for that action. Their bit was the attempt to get through and ride out the results either way.
    This firing will cost the radio company more money and negative publicity because of the lawyers will now be involved for wrongful dismissal.

  • December 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I think a formal apology, maybe a donation to the victim's family or something, and that should be it.

    We had this arguement last week here at work. I basically said what you said, but you used more words. Hee hee.

  • December 10, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    I say the DJs are absolutely blameless here. Yup, I said it.

    Radio personalities have been placing phoney phone calls for decades. Steve Allen pioneered it in the 1950s.

    This woman committed suicide for whatever reasons she had, so the blame should be properly shifted in two places:

    1. Woman's mental state. Suicide, especially without any warning, is indicative of mental illness of some sort. As pranks go, this was pretty damned minor. The day after the press about it happening, people were already forgetting about it. If this woman was so traumatized by a dumb radio phone prank that she killed herself, she was probably already seriously considering suicide at some point before that.

    2. The hospital administration's reaction (whatever it was) to the phone call getting through. Sure, it was a fairly dumb mistake but nobody got hurt and no sensitive information was leaked to the public. If the hospital administrators and/or staff decided to punish or shame this woman then they are more culpable than the DJs who made the call.

    Blaming the DJs for this woman's death is herd mentality.

  • December 10, 2012 at 8:43 pm

    I have mixed feelings on this.

    On the one hand: did the chain of events that ended in this woman's death start with these two? Yes. From that perspective, you can't totally absolve them. This was a prank that went bad, but it was their prank. I think you have accept at least some responsibility for your actions when things spin out of control, even if the bad outcome was in no way your intent.

    On the other hand, I temper this with three other observations.

    1) Was this woman's death a reasonably foreseeable consequence of the prank? Absolutely not.

    They were perfectly willing to risk someone getting fired, of course, as the perpetrators of such pranks often are. That's why I'm not willing to totally let them off the hook. But did anybody think that someone was going to end up dead? Is that a typical outcome of such pranks? No, of course not. This was a tragic but highly atypical outcome.

    2) Alan is absolutely right: the station was in on it. They broadcast the whole damned thing, including Kate Middleton's personal information. Making it seem as though these were two rogue DJs who pulled a prank without their employer on side would be 180-degrees inaccurate.

    3) Why do DJs pull stunts like this? Because we listen, that's why. Because there's an audience. If pranks like this weren't good for ratings, they wouldn't happen. Simple as that.

    So I say enough hypocritical "tut-tutting" of these DJs already. We the public are more than happy to laugh at the joke when it goes well, so we can't feign shock and horror when it goes sideways. We, the audience, are in on it, too.

  • December 10, 2012 at 9:32 pm

    I'll preface this by saying I hate this "prank" business. I think it's based on stupidity and humiliation and I won't listen to radio that does that.

    That said, this nurse wasn't even the one who gave up the info. She passed the call onto the nurse who did. And, the British authorities had already announced that there wasn't going to be any reprisals from this. This looks like it was the proverbial final straw for this poor woman. It couldn't be predicted, and basing any consequences from her actions would be an even worse outcome.

    I wouldn't fire the two DJ's, just give them the time off. It wouldn't surprise me that they quit anyway and go to another format station. Nobody wins on this one. I'd like it if the culture changes somewhat to tone down these shockjock morning shows and less pandering to the idiots out there.

  • December 11, 2012 at 3:29 am

    Mel Greig and Michael Christian should not lose their jobs, it was a memorable radio prank until the next one comes along


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