A hoax too far

The recent news about the untimely death of a hospital worker who had unwittingly answered and transferred a hoax call from an Australian radio station sent a chill down my spine. Not only do I think, like many others, that this was a tragic waste of a life but that it will also go on to affect many others including the presenters involved, who we can presume are soon to be unemployed.

When the news first broke about the transfer of the call from reception through to the nurses who were responsible for the care of the Duchess of Cambridge I have to be honest, I was beyond shocked. My first reaction was to wonder why appropriate measures weren’t in place to ensure that this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen?

The hospital is used to dealing with high profile patients and should be accustomed to taking calls that may be obscure or even unsolicited. It strikes me as strange that even at 5.30am there was no process in place to manage this.

I would have expected that all calls would have been managed in a similar way to how a PR agency would manage a crisis. When we work with clients we put a simple but effective procedure in place to ensure that all calls are handled professionally and efficiently. It works and it means that we are able to respond in a timely fashion – but at the same time it also takes the onus off the receptionist or internal team, leaving them to get on with their day to day roles.

In this case it would seem that this was not possible, leading to the most devastating of outcomes.

The more serious side to this ‘prank’ was that it should never have been discussed never mind considered to be a good idea. I’ve laughed at prank phone calls before, you know the ones:

Caller: Can I speak to Ivor please?

Person on the line: Ivor who?

Caller: Ivor Biggan

Person on the line: Ivor Biggan, does anyone know Ivor Biggan…

I would be lying if I didn’t think these calls made me giggle but at the same time they are by all intense and purpose completely harmless. The difference with a call to a hospital is that for one you are calling an establishment knowing that people are there for a reason – because they are ill. That can never be funny.

By the time the call was made the world was aware that the Duchess was pregnant but also that she had been admitted to hospital with a potentially serious illness, which has been known in cases to lead to the loss of a child. Now, call me overly sensitive, but that can never be funny!

In my opinion the call was inappropriate in the first instance but the presenters took it one stage too far when asking after the health of the Duchess. What if something terrible had happened? What if she had suffered a miscarriage and as a result of this misguided joke these presenters were the first to find out? I fail to see the humour in that outcome, which at any time during this situation was a very real possibility.

The presenters in this case are likely to regret their actions for the rest of their lives and their hoax call will certainly go down in history – but for all the wrong reasons. This story just goes to show how powerful the media can be and the obligation that broadcasters have to consider the outcome of any fun they choose to have before going ahead.

There must be a producer involved in this case somewhere, although they appear to be keeping their heads down. This is a sad case of bad judgement which has led to the Christmas of at least three families being ruined. Let’s hope other ‘pranksters’ will take note and think twice before acting on an impulse.