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Jacintha's Death Is a Tragedy, But it Isn't the DJs' Fault

Posted: 10/12/2012 00:34

FIRST and foremost, let me say this: it's an absolute tragedy that nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who took a prank-call at Princess Kate's hospital has died in a suspected suicide.

I can't begin to imagine how it must feel to think that taking your own life is the only option you have left, and I feel so incredibly strongly for her family, friends and colleagues.

Mrs Saldanha was just 46, had a good career, and was described as "well respected and popular". We don't know why she did what she did. Nobody does.

One thing is clear though: it isn't the fault of Australian DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian.

They played a practical joke they never thought would succeed, never mind feature so heavily in media coverage across the globe. Some have said it was "journalistic trickery". I disagree. Trickery is one thing, barking and pretending to be a corgi is quite another. It was a silly joke that got out of hand.

Of course, practical jokes on the radio are anything but new, with many stations playing them on unsuspecting 'victims' every day.

In 2003, a Canadian DJ prank-called ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, pretending to be Prime Minister Jean Chretian. A spokesman at the time said "he took it all in good spirits."

And in 2006, it was French President Jacques Chirac's turn to be duped. A DJ pretended to be the new conservative PM-elect Stephen Harper, before letting Chirac in on the joke a little later.

There are literally hundreds of pranks available to watch on YouTube - and even more played out daily in the home and workplace, like the ghost in the elevator that went viral just last week.

They're just jokes - they're not malicious. Nobody set out to hurt anybody and it certainly wasn't the Aussie DJs' intentions to set somebody up for a fall.

Many comedians regularly 'put-down' hecklers and audience members with harsh words.

In 2011, The Mirror published the 'best put-downs to silence hecklers'. Among them is Russell Kanes' "why don't you go into that corner and finish evolving?' and John Cooper Clarke's "your bus leaves in 10 minutes... be under it." Most are meant in jest and none intended to really hurt somebody.

Mrs Saldanha wasn't the butt of the joke and was never the deliberate target.

All she did was answer the phone and put the DJs through to Kate's personal nurse because no receptionist was available. She was not being disciplined by her employer and nobody from the Royal Family had complained about the prank to the hospital.

A simple, harmless joke - with no serious consequences - should never distress somebody to such an extreme, as it is in this case.

I can understand how it could tip somebody over the edge if they have pre-existing conditions, but little is known about Mrs Saldanha's state of mind and mental health advocates have warned against speculation.

So what's the solution? Do we ban jokes in case they lead to something so appalling tragic and upsetting as this? Do we spend £5m on an inquiry before criminalising practical jokes in some sort of angry, over-the-top reaction?

I'll tell you what the answer is: we continue to smash the mental health taboo, so people who are feeling suicidal are known about, cared for and supported.

Scapegoating a pair of pranksters for something that wasn't their fault isn't just wrong; it's scarily ignorant to the plight of those feeling they can't go on.

We need to help people, not attack them. It might be natural to look for somebody to blame, but it certainly isn't helpful.

To some, laughter and joking might actually the way out of their depression. It certainly was for me.

If there's something troubling you, call Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org.

 

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