London/Melbourne: Two Australian radio presenters who made a prank call inquiring about the medical condition of a pregnant Kate Middleton have been taken off air, amid growing anger over the suspected suicide of an Indian-origin nurse who transferred their hoax call.
The unconscious body of Jacintha Saldanha, 46, was found yesterday morning at an address yards away from King Edward VII Hospital in London.
The CEO of the company that owns embattled radio station '2Day FM' has defended the presenters involved in the royal prank phone call, saying there was no way they could have foreseen the tragic outcome of their actions, the Australian Associated Press reported.
Rhys Holleran, CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, said the presenters behind the call, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, were "completely shattered" by the nurse's death.
The radio station has pulled the pair off air, he said, as a mark of respect.
Saldanha answered the hoax call at 5.30am on Wednesday morning, and was helping out on reception at the time of the prank. Giggling DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian were pretending to be the British Queen and Prince Charles and asked her if they could be put through to Kate.
Saldanha connected them to another nurse who gave details of Kate's condition, who was suffering from acute morning sickness at the London hospital.
The exact cause of death remained unclear. However, media has indicated that the woman appeared to have killed herself.
News of the nurse's death has prompted a furious outpouring against the radio station and the two presenters involved.
Saldanha arrived in the UK a decade ago from Udipi near Mangalore in Karnataka.
Holleran refused to specify whether the nurse's permission
was sought before the segment aired, or at what point the company obtained legal advice.
He described the nurse's death as "a tragic event that could not have reasonably been foreseen ... We are confident we haven't done anything illegal".
Holleran said he was confident the station hadn't broken any laws, noting that prank calls in radio have been happening "for decades".
"They're not just part of one radio station or one network or one country - they're done worldwide," he said.
In a statement last night, Saldanha's family said they were "deeply saddened" by the death and asked for privacy.
"We as a family are deeply saddened by the loss of our beloved Jacintha. We would ask that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time," they said.
Holleran has however not said if Austereo was now concerned about losing its broadcasting licence.
He said the company had expressed its regret in a statement but had not contacted the nurse's family directly, though he would not "rule out" doing so later.
Earlier today, Southern Cross Austereo issued a statement which said: "SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy".
"Southern Cross Austereo (SCA) and 2Day FM are deeply saddened by the tragic news of the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha from King Edward VII's Hospital and we extend our deepest sympathies to her family and all that have been affected by this situation around the world," the statement said.
"Chief Executive Officer Rhys Holleran has spoken with the presenters, they are both deeply shocked and at this time we have agreed that they not comment about the circumstances. SCA and the hosts have decided that they will not return to their radio show until further notice out of respect for what can only be described as a tragedy," the statement added.
Austereo cut its losses quickly --and perhaps only temporarily --with a swift decision today to pull all advertising from the Sydney station at the centre of the royal phone prank scandal.
Holleran said of the presenter, "These people aren't
machines, they're human beings. We're all affected by this."
All advertising on 2Day FM has been suspended by its owner, Austereo, from this afternoon.
Earlier today, Australian retailers had begun withdrawing advertising from the station.
Telecommunications heavyweight, Telstra, had also pulled its advertising before the suspension. A spokesman for Telstra told the Australian newspaper the telco had suspended "advertising on the station until an investigation into the issue has concluded".
Meanwhile Scotland Yard police headquarters said today in London that a post-mortem would take place next week.
Chairman of the hospital where the nurse worked, Lord Glenarthur, said: "This is a tragic event. Jacintha was a first-class nurse who cared diligently for hundreds of patients during her time with us. She will be greatly missed."
"We can confirm that Jacintha was recently the victim of a hoax call to the hospital. The hospital has been supporting her at this difficult time," the hospital had said in a statement yesterday.
A flood of complaints have been made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, which regulates radio broadcasting.
Chairman Chris Chapman said in a statement: "These events are a tragedy for all involved and I pass on my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased nurse in London".
The London hospital has protested to the Australian radio network who broadcast the conversation. The chairman of King Edward VII hospital wrote to Southern Cross Austereo today.
The tragedy has even reached Australia's political class.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard called Saldanha's death a terrible tragedy, saying: "Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time".
Saldanha's former driving instructor in the West Country Jeff Sellick described her a "quiet and shy" person.
"I imagine it would have played very heavy on her mind with what's happened. It wasn't her fault but I can imagine it would have troubled her," Sellick said.
Saldanha's death sparked a global Twitter backlash last night with users condemning the DJs. It is understood Saldanha had not been formally reprimanded over the hoax.
St James's Palace said it had never reported the hoax to the hospital.
A spokesman said: "At no point did the Palace complain to the hospital about the incident. On the contrary, we offered our full and heartfelt support to the nurses involved and hospital staff at all times."
Police were called to a home in Weymouth Street Central London at 9.35 am (local time) yesterday after receiving a report of a woman found unconscious.
The address was registered in planning documents as hospital accommodation. Two ambulances were sent with a duty officer, however the woman was found dead.
Saldanha was a mother of two teenage children.
Australians across the country expressed shock and
disbelief at the tragic death of Jacintha Saldanha.
A spokesman for the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard said in a statement: "This is a terrible tragedy. Our thoughts are with her family and friends at this time."
The federal communications minister, Stephen Conroy, also described Saldanha's death as "dreadful and tragic".
"My thoughts and sympathies are with Ms Saldanha's family, friends and work colleagues at this time," he said in a statement.
Conroy confirmed that the independent broadcasting regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), had received complaints about the hoax call but said a decision about whether to investigate the prank call for possible breaches of the Commercial Radio Codes of Practice would be one for ACMA.
ACMA has not currently launched an investigation.
In a statement, it's chairman Chapman, said: "The ACMA does not propose to make any comments at this stage, but will be engaging with the licensee, around the facts and issues surrounding the prank call."
"These events are a tragedy for all involved and I pass on my heartfelt condolences to the family of the deceased nurse in London," he said.
First Published: Saturday, December 08, 2012, 17:32