Futility of limiting British print media

The death of the nurse duped by the Australian radio station 2Day FM into putting through a call from prankster DJs to the Duchess of Cambridge's hospital ward sparked global comms challenges spanning every media platform.

Ian Monk: 'Predictably, the anonymous social media lynch mobs, led by publicity-hungry celebrities, came out in their millions, targeting the DJs with hate-filled posts.'
Ian Monk: 'Predictably, the anonymous social media lynch mobs, led by publicity-hungry celebrities, came out in their millions, targeting the DJs with hate-filled posts.'

Ironically, the events came as Lord Leveson and many politicians pushed the case for state-backed regulation of the British print media.

Before the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha there seemed no great offence at the DJs' trickery. Rather it was treated as an edgy contribution by a raucously irreverent media to the joy of a royal pregnancy. Most seemed happy to laugh it off as part of the usual Aussie sledging tinged with cheerful Republicanism that characterises the longstanding ties between the nations.

Prince Charles publicly joked about it. The British media reported the stunt fully in a manner suggesting that the hoax was both shocking and, at the same time, hilarious. Social media were abuzz with the story.

Then, tragically and unbelievably, someone died. Stunned comms teams sprang into damage limitation mode. Buckingham Palace stressed William and Kate's personal sympathy for the nurse and her family. At the same time, it pushed the message that none of the royal family had criticised the King Edward VII hospital.

The 'no-blame' message was echoed by the hospital, which insisted through 'sources' that Saldanha had faced no disciplinary action. Instead, the hospital lambasted the radio station for causing the death of its employee.

In a shocked response, the CEO of Southern Cross Austereo, owner of the radio station, insisted no-one could reasonably have foreseen the consequences of the prank and that no rules had been broken.

Predictably, the anonymous social media lynch mobs, led by publicity-hungry celebrities, came out in their millions, targeting the DJs with hate-filled posts.

God forbid, but should this tragedy run further Twitter will bear a heavy responsibility. Meanwhile, Leveson is himself in Australia. As he witnesses this tsunami of global comms precipitated by a radio station's hoax calls, might he just ponder on the futility of seeking further to dam the free flow of the British print media?

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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