Jacintha’s death: is the UK media blameless?

Britain’s media has rounded on the pair of foolish Australian DJs, almost as a man, in blaming them for the suicide of Indian-origin nurse Jacintha Saldanha. Strangely – or perhaps not – it hasn’t seen it fit to examine its own role in this appalling tragedy.

As soon as the prank story broke British tabloid newspapers set about playing the blame game, seeking out outraged commentators. The most scathing of them was Dickie Arbiter, Queen Elizabeth II’s queen’s former press secretary.

This is what he said:

“The Royal Family have been clients of the King Edward VII (Hospital) for many, many years and it beggars belief that a member of the public could call up and obtain details of the duchess’s medical condition in this way,” he was quoted saying in the Daily Mirror. He added: “This is a shocking breach of security.

“Where on earth were the checks and balances? The hospital will be livid at what has happened and I am sure the Palace will be demanding answers.” There will be “fireworks” at the Palace, he predicted.

Hopefully, the inquest into Jacintha’s death will examine all the circumstances around it, including the kind of support she received from hospital bosses. The BBC reported that Jacintha had not been suspended or disciplined by the hospital. But its royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell said it had been suggested to him that she had felt “very lonely and confused” as a result of what had happened.

The hospital behaved correctly in not naming Jacintha when the prank story broke, and we still don’t know the name of the second nurse. But there’s an ocean of difference between not being disciplined and ensuring that the two nurses – who, it’s worth noting, were themselves victims of the hoax – received the strongest possible support. Nurses are trained to be strong and resilient and Jacintha’s suicide seems to be out of character.

Columnist Carole Malone wrote in the Daily Mirror: “…Surely with all the support we’re told she was getting, that wouldn’t have been enough for her to kill herself and leave her two adored children motherless just three weeks before Christmas?

“I don’t know what happened to Mrs Saldanha in the immediate aftermath of the hoax by those two stupid Aussie DJs but the inquest being held next week has a duty to find out. There also needs to be some kind of independent inquiry to determine what or who it was that drove this gentle soul to take her own life.”

The effect that British tabloids have on the British psyche is difficult to comprehend for outsiders. Kate’s pregnancy is, understandably, a massive story in a country headed by a monarchy. But when there are Australians involved in playing a hoax on this revered institution, all sorts of unstated factors can come into play.

Tabloids, who tend to be suspicious of Republican sentiment in Australia, are experts at whipping up public frenzy. Without a doubt, that’s the kind of pressure Jacintha would have come under, in addition to the humiliation of hearing their voices being played out on television and radio.

The astounding fact is that all of this happened less than a week after the publication of the Leveson report into media ethics, and we haven’t heard a word so far from the British press about its own role in this tragedy.

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