After a British nurse killed herself shortly after being pranked by an Australian radio show to extract confidential information about HRH Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton’s medical condition, journalists are pondering what moral responsibility they have for the welfare of subjects of their stories.
One Greensparty candidate, whose page on a gay dating website revealed himself to be a fetishist who enjoyed exhibitionism and rubbing his genitals against strangers on trains, threatened to “jump off the West Gate” bridge if his private passions were revealed in the Herald Sun and VEXNEWS’ predecessor publication, the OC. We have republished the indelicate and brutal article here, in the interests of debate and prurience. The Herald Sun article is still up too.
He didn’t jump, thankfully, but it did give us much pause for thought.
What if he had? Would it have been my fault?
We had supplied the story to the Herald Sun and thought it was a perfectly reasonable – even if embarrassing – thing to report about a public figure. Gold, I thought, as I marvelled at the dude’s smutty web-page full of confessions of racy and also illegal enthusiasms.
There have been other instances as well where story subjects of ours have threatened to kill themselves if we did the story. It hasn’t discouraged us – and ought not – from publishing but it certainly makes you worry and tread more carefully than our usual elephantine thundering around.
If threatening suicide was accepted by journalists as a good reason not to do a story then there probably wouldn’t be any adverse stories about anyone. Ever.
But the fact is that the cynical candidate’s almost certainly insincere threat – passed on in solemn tones to the Herald Sun by the Greensparty’s then media adviser Dinesh Mathew – did leave us wondering about the subject’s welfare for the weeks ahead. He didn’t jump and lived to weave baskets long into the future and has a successful career as a systems engineer. Some thought our reporting even helped his election campaign, given the chap was running in the state seat of Prahran.
Those who say the Sydney radio DJs who impersonated Royals in order to find out about Kate Middleton’s medical condition (she’s in hospital with extreme morning sickness in case you don’t follow these things with the obsessive interest of my household) over the phone are responsible in anyway for someone taking their own life are totally misguided. Outrageously so.
It’s driven by the Brits’ current moral panic about journalism, only partly mitigated by the recent Leveson inquiry which despite the hopes of haters, effectively exonerated the Murdochs by making it clear they were not aware of the excessively intrusive actions of their British reporters where they hacked voicemail and bribed Police for dirt. Many think The Age newspaper will soon face prosecution over the actions of its journalists who illegally penetrated an ALP voter database with a stolen password and sought extensive private information on some of Victoria’s most prominent citizens. It was nearly a year ago today that they were spectacularly raided by Victoria Police with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions currently evaluating the evidence.
We are all responsible for our own actions, much as we’d like not to be or like to blame others.
It might not popular to say so, but suicide is a selfish act and blaming anyone other than the perpetrator is quite wrong.
UPDATE 23rd DECEMBER: It appears the nurse had two previous suicide attempts.