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Australian DJs apologize for royal hoax call

By Kristen Gelineau

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 07:46 a.m. HST, Dec 10, 2012

SYDNEY » They expected a hang-up and a few laughs. Instead, the Australian DJs behind a hoax phone call to the London hospital where the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge was being treated were deeply apologetic today as they described how their joke ended up going too far.

The phone call — in which they impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles — went through, and their station broadcast and even trumpeted the confidential information received. Whatever pride there had been over the hoax was obliterated by worldwide public outrage after Friday's death, still unexplained, of Jacintha Saldanha, the first nurse they talked to.

"There's not a minute that goes by that we don't think about her family and what they must be going through," 2DayFM radio host Mel Greig told Australia's "A Current Affair," her voice shaking. "And the thought that we may have played a part in that is gut-wrenching."

She and co-host Michael Christian spoke publicly about the prank for the first time in the televised interview. A separate interview on rival show "Today Tonight" also aired today.

The hoax has sparked broad outrage, with the hosts receiving death threats and demands they be fired.

The radio station's owner said Greig and Christian were receiving psychological counseling to deal with the tragedy.

A British lawmaker said he wished that much was being done for Saldanha's grieving family.

"They are devastated by what has happened," said Labour legislator Keith Vaz, who has visited Saldanha's husband and two children at their home in Bristol, southwest England.

"They are shocked and they are bewildered," Vaz told the BBC. "More support, in my view, needs to be given."

Both DJs apologized for the hoax and cried when asked about the moment they learned that the Saldanha was dead. But neither described having reservations before the hoax tape was broadcast; they said higher-ups at the station had made the decision to air it.

"We didn't have that discussion," Greig said.

Southern Cross Austereo, the parent company of 2DayFM, released a statement today saying that Greig and Christian's show had been terminated and there would be a company-wide suspension of prank calls. The DJs themselves remain suspended.

Saldanha, 46, had transferred their call last week to a fellow nurse caring for the duchess, who was being treated for acute morning sickness at King Edward VII Hospital in London. That nurse said the former Kate Middleton "hasn't had any retching with me and she's been sleeping on and off."

Three days later, Saldanha was found dead at the hospital's nurses' accommodation. Police have not disclosed the cause of death but many assumed it was related to the stress from the call.

The DJs said when the idea for the call came up in a team meeting, no one expected that they would actually be put through to the duchess' ward.

"We just assumed we'd get cut off at every single point and that'd be it," Christian said.

"The joke 100 percent was on us," he said. "The idea was never, 'Let's call up and get through to Kate,' or 'Let's speak to a nurse.' The joke was our accents are horrible, they don't sound anything like who they're intended to be."

The decision to air the prerecorded call was made by executives higher up the chain, the DJs said.

Southern Cross Austereo CEO Rhys Holleran has called Saldanha's death a tragedy but defended the prank as a standard part of radio culture. He has also insisted the station had not broken any laws. He told Fairfax Radio today that his station had tried at least five times to contact the London hospital to discuss the prank before it aired, but never succeeded.

When asked why the company made the attempts, Holleran replied "because we did want to speak with them about it." When pressed as to whether this meant the station had reservations about the prank, Holleran said only, "I think that that's a process that we follow and we have checks and balances on all those things."

The King Edward VII Hospital denied that its management had been contacted by the radio station.

"Following the hoax call, the radio station did not speak to anyone in the hospital's senior management or anyone at the company that handles our media inquiries," the hospital said in a statement.

It also announced a memorial fund to help support the nurse's family, with the hospital making the first donation.

Vaz, however, called on the hospital to do more. He urged it to hold an inquiry into Saldanha's death and said no one from King Edward VII had visited her family.

"I'm a little surprised that nobody has made the journey to Bristol to sit with them and to offer them the counseling that I think that they need," he said.

Saldanha had two children. Her husband, Ben Barboza, expressed his sadness on his Facebook page with a short note "Obituary Jacintha."

"I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances," he wrote. He said she will be laid to rest in Shirva, India.

Meanwhile, there were indications that the Duchess of Cambridge was still struggling with acute morning sickness over the weekend with her husband, Prince William, cancelling a Sunday night engagement.

Palace officials said no final decision had been made on whether Kate would attend Wednesday's British premiere of "The Hobbit," where she and William are scheduled to be the guests of honor.

Associated Press writers Jill Lawless, Gregory Katz and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

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joewilly wrote:
They should be punished by having them sit in a room and force to listen to Frank DeLima commercials for 24 hours.
on December 10,2012 | 05:27AM
RichardCory wrote:
I'd rather be kicked in the groin for 24 hours.
on December 10,2012 | 05:58AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
I'd rather have to watch 24 hours of the Bu Laie commercial. Um, no, on second thought I'd take the kick the groin. What was he trying to sell anyway?
on December 10,2012 | 09:55AM
mitt_grund wrote:
I had been aware of the strong "loss of face" traditions in Asian and Southeast Asian countries - Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, etc. Did not realize this same strong ethos also exists in the culture of India. Maybe, it's just natural for Australians to only see their tasteless pranks from the Aussie, abrasive, look-down-on-others life view. They couldn't imagine that England being more cosmopolitan than Australia could host a meld of different cultures. The two dee-jays are probably laughing about this in the privacy of their homes, deriding the silly cultural sensitivities of non-Australians. Crocodile tears in public. Didn't we recently have a similar show of crocodile tears here in Hawaii?
on December 10,2012 | 05:53AM
kalaoa wrote:
Seppuku is required to atone for the death of another.
on December 10,2012 | 06:13AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Gimme a break!
on December 10,2012 | 09:58AM
st1d wrote:
thought revealing medical information was illegal throughout the modern world. too bad it isn't in australia.
on December 10,2012 | 06:15AM
Ronin006 wrote:
This unfortunate incident was not caused not by a call from two Australian radio shock-jocks pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles; it was caused by two hospital nurses who violated hospital protocol by providing patient information to people calling the hospital. The nurse who committed suicide merely forwarded the call to Kate Middleton’s nurse. No person in his or her right mind would commit suicide simply for transferring a telephone call. It suggests to me she had other issues unrelated to the hoax call. Instead of the entire world wanting the two Australians to be hanged, drawn and quartered for a joke, they should be demanding that hospitals improve their protocols to prevent doctors, nurses and administrators from releasing patient information to unauthorized individuals.
on December 10,2012 | 08:00AM
313invegas wrote:
Exactly!! First smart comment I have read anywhere on the web.
on December 10,2012 | 08:18AM
serious wrote:
Correct. One takes the call and calls back to make sure you know who you are addressing. Not sure the hospital had this type of security--but I can see Saturday Night Live doing this. It was a prank that went wrong!!! Sorry for all parties involved!!! But, having said that, if I were the prank caller I would have asked the gender of the baby--that would have been news!!
on December 10,2012 | 08:18AM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
on December 10,2012 | 09:56AM
Publicbraddah wrote:
Agree. I don't know anyone who committed suicide over a seemingly harmless prank. It remains to be seen if the nurse had psychological issues and that will probably not be revealed because of privacy issues. The DJs should be reprimanded but nothing more.
on December 10,2012 | 09:57AM
Ronin006 wrote:
I had another thought about what might have caused the nurse to kill herself. Everyone seems to be focusing on the two Australian radio shock jocks, but it could be that she was severely reprimanded and threatened with termination by hospital administrators for violating protocol regarding patient confidentiality, which caused her to go over the edge. Oh, those evil administrators.
on December 10,2012 | 04:40PM
false wrote:
Damage has been done. An apology cannot undo what they have done to affect many lives.
on December 10,2012 | 08:35AM
entrkn wrote:
too little too late fools... somebody died.
on December 10,2012 | 10:05AM
313invegas wrote:
By the way..why doesn't the Hospital have caller ID.
on December 10,2012 | 04:46PM
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