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Let's Not Confuse a Prank Call for Malicious Subterfuge

Posted: 09/12/2012 20:56

Moe: Hello, Moe's Tavern. Birthplace of the Rob Roy.
Bart: Is Seymour there? Last name Butz.
Moe: Just a sec. Hey, is there a Butz here? Seymour Butz? Hey, everybody! I wanna see more butts!

I discovered the comedic delight of the prank call for the first time from watching The Simpsons. Not specifically from this Season 2 episode entitled 'One Fish, Two Fish Blowfish, Blue Fish.' But this is by far one of my favorites.

Seymour Butz... chortle.

From that point on my brothers and I did try and find ways to prank each other and our parents over the telephone, which in a pre-Nokia 3210 age proved a lot harder than we thought. And in the years since we've seen the dial up joke reach across the pond from its American cultural origins and dive into UK mainstream broadcasting.

BBC Radio 4 and subsequently BBC 2 featured Jon Culshaw's prank calls on impression show Dead Ringers that saw him call up public offices and pretend to be Tom Baker's incarnation of Doctor Who, Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi, and talk show host Michael Parkinson. Later Kayvan Novak brought to the screen his own brand of telephone hijinks in the highly popular E4 series Fonejacker.

Now in recent weeks the practical joke has been caught up in controversy with the death of a nurse who fell victim to the pretense of two Australian DJs pretending to be Queen Elizabeth II and her son Prince Charles as they tried to get some juicy details about the Duchess of Cambridge's pregnancy.

I can't deny that Jacintha Saldanha's assumed suicide was a truly tragic and extreme consequence of the radio station's on-air jest but for the hospital to blame the situation entirely on DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian is the most tasteless joke of all.

King Edward VII's hospital has been used by the Royal Family for years and therefore must constantly be contacted by third parties - especially by members of the press -- trying to source information about the majestic visitors who just might be staying in the private health center.

Surely stringent security measures and protocols would be put in place to guarantee no breach of confidence would be made? Furthermore, their entire staff should be expected to have frequent training to deal with any such situation.

Now with that in mind go back and listen to the radio recording of the prank call. Mel Greig is no Helen Mirren, and together the two hardly perform a credible impression of the Monarch and her heir.

But questionable upper class accents aside, when at any point do either nurses attempt to verify the authenticity of the call or clarify that the 'Kate' (no second name was given) Mel Grieg asked for was actually the Duchess of Cambridge?

I can't change the address of my Empire magazine subscription without verifying who I am with the call handler, so why on earth would not the most basic security checks be in place when it comes to highly sensitive and confidential medical information concerning the mother of the future heir to the British throne?

I draw your attention to section 5b of the NHS Code of Practice for Confidentiality 2003, where it specifically makes the point that 'staff should check that any callers, by telephone or in person, are who they say they are.'

'There can be a significant risk of harm to a patient through impersonation by those seeking information improperly,' it continues.

The guideline makes clear that staff should 'seek official identification or check identity by calling them back (using an independent source for the phone number).'

None of these measures were carried out by King Charles VII's Hospital. If jut one check had been made then I wouldn't be writing this post, the world wouldn't be 'outraged' and the face of a Jacintha Saldanha may not be filling our news feed.

Yes, maybe the prank call was in 'bad taste' but before any death the Royal family had publically regarded it in the good spirit of what it was meant to be. Prince Charles laughed about the poor impersonation of his accent, joking, 'how do you know I'm not a radio station?' And the soon-to-be grandfather's jovial reaction is rather fitting for someone who's been confronted by a prankster on the phone before (see Howard Stern).

The original purpose of this prank call wasn't meant to be a design of malicious subterfuge rather an entertaining feature on their 2Day FM show. The presenters don't ask for specific details about the Duchess, just her general well being and visiting hours... hardly a covert intelligence operation.

But a person has died and of course that can't be ignored, and I couldn't possibly comment on Mrs. Saldanha frame of mind before or after the event took place that led her to potentially take her own life. Nonetheless I will leave you with a snippet of the hospital's chairman Lord Glenarthur's open letter to the Aussie station:

'I appreciate that you cannot undo the damage which has been done but I would urge you to take steps to ensure that such an incident could never be repeated.'

Pot. Kettle. Black.

No matter how Lord Glenarthur paints it, this was fundamentally a security breach. So whether the nurses had been given training or not, were duped or embarrassed they are representatives of King Charles VII hospital who have a code of practice to adhere to.

Therefore I can't help but believe that it is Lord Glenarthur who should step and take full responsibility for the health center's malpractice and the collateral damage rather than using two radio DJs as their scapegoats.

 

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