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NAMING, SHAMING, BLAMING: Are journalists responsible if subjects of stories commit suicide?

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.

Discussion

Comments are disallowed for this post.

  1. Except that case of that young women suicideing after relentless bullying from those toads in that cafe in Hawthorn

    Posted by h the b | December 9, 2012, 10:03
  2. Given the degree of speed and reach such ‘hilarious prank calls’ can achieve in the current social media landscape, this poor woman’s humiliation was spread far beyond the 2DAY FM listenership.

    It was a pretty pointless prank but unfortunately was pulled on a vulnerable person, with an outcome no one would have ever imagined.

    The sad fact is that while this was never something the DJs or the station were clearly hoping for, their intent was to humiliate someone and they achieved that on a massive scale – they now have to live with the results, as do that family and her friends.

    Posted by Not quite blameless | December 9, 2012, 10:33
  3. ‘Suicide is a selfish act and blaming anyone other than the perpetrator is quite wrong.’Screams the language of an an areshole.

    Posted by Mysterious and wise | December 9, 2012, 12:27
  4. I am not only surprised that reporters are even permitted to “stalk” hospitals on person.

    But that two Sydney radio grubs (who cant get a real job) thought it was OK to ring a hospital for a prank in the first place and then to impersonate someone of importance as well is appauling.

    Hospital staff are under enough pressure without idiot ringing them up.

    Then again they are from bogan Sydney where Kyle Sandiland and Allan Jones come from. All brain dead convict stock.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | December 9, 2012, 21:07
  5. While I sometimes do not agree with feminist lefty Eva Cox I though her interview on this subject on ABC Ch 24 today was spot on. Well said Ms Cox.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | December 9, 2012, 21:11
  6. The Duchess of Cambridge is not Kate Middleton anymore. Her surname now is Windsor or is it Wales?

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | December 9, 2012, 21:26
  7. You know what’s more “appauling” [sic]? A documented fuckup like Adrian Jackson presuming to belittle others’ jobs.

    It’s no surprise either to hear that he likes (ahem) Cox…

    Posted by Duke of URL | December 10, 2012, 1:45
  8. Yes, the actions of the two DJ’s were most inappropriate; however, were they to such an extent as to cause suicide? I think not. Indeed, the actions of hospital management in their disciplining of the nurse (the severity of which have not yet been detailed), perhaps the actions of the nurse’s co-workers as well as any lack of training in the official protocols in handling enquiries from Royals should be looked at. Did security services interview the nurse and were their tactics overbearing to such a degree as to cause an obviously emotionally fragile woman to go over the edge? These are the questions that should be asked by the British media.

    Posted by Roger | December 10, 2012, 10:51
  9. In modern society, someone else is always to blame for my actions.

    I take no responsibility for my own actions, its always someone else who has made me do it.

    Welcome to the world in 2012 where no-one takes responsibility for what they do.

    Posted by Modern Society | December 10, 2012, 13:25
  10. When will the Libs boot Kelly O’Dwyer from Higgins?

    Posted by Gday | December 10, 2012, 14:59
  11. Duke of URL – Are you Alan Jones ot Kyle Sandilands?

    I thought Tony Abbotts comments today on this issue were pathetic.

    Sydney is full of losers who listen to idiots on the radio during the day when they should be working.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | December 10, 2012, 16:32
  12. I hear our Prime Minister pranked the end of the world on a radio station last week.
    No one died that we know about so no news.
    However shouldn’t she be setting an example?

    Posted by Anonymous | December 10, 2012, 18:28
  13. Their intent was a prank; humiliation is foreseeable in a prank…especially one to such high profile people…making the extent of public humiliation very foreseeable…depression etc is associated with humiliation…while the precise extent of the impact of humiliation may not be foreseen to the extent that turned out, I was under the impression that you take your victim as you find them — fragile and susceptiable. As for radio station not even imagining or forseeing that their accents would be believed…I dont see why not. UK is multicultural society. How many Aussies who learn to speak another language can spot such variations in another accent? Also, given how strict the royal family have been about breach of privacy (the recent Kate photos scandal), one of non-English speaking background who perhaps still couldnt distinguish a real from fake accent would be reasonable to assume that no-one would dare pull such a breach of privacy given the recent clear signal the royals sent over the kate photo scandal… And, why did they record and air a private conversation without the permission of the UK hospital?
    I would hardly compare what our PM did last week to no-one in particular to this situation. I cannot see how the 2 situations are either legally or intellectually comparable.

    Posted by Ana | December 10, 2012, 21:01
  14. How many radio stations round the world have made prank calls over the past 25 years?

    No-one condemned those calls nor was their outrage after 2Day aired their call.

    This has become a media feeding frenzy led by British tabloids who over recent years have done far worse than prank calls.

    Posted by Anonymous | December 11, 2012, 14:24
  15. How many radio stations round the world have made prank calls over the past 25 years?

    No-one condemned those calls nor was their outrage after 2Day aired their call.

    This has become a media feeding frenzy led by British tabloids who over recent years have done far worse than prank calls

    Posted by Anonymous | December 11, 2012, 14:25
  16. To Anonymous December 10
    A person holding the level of authority as the PM does would have scared most people by announcing the end of the world. Silly prank. Might explain why her Government has slipped again in the polls. I hear he has “Shortened” in the odds to be an early Christmas visit to his mother in law.

    Posted by Anonymous | December 11, 2012, 17:54
  17. Nothing wrong with a prank but health workers and emergency service workers should be off limits.
    Why can’t the media moghuls figure this out?

    Posted by Pests | December 14, 2012, 7:40
  18. Such outmoded thinking Vex, truly deplorable. Firstly as the Ashby case has demonstrated the media are more than willing to insert themselves into a matter and be part of the story rather than just report the story, allegedly Steve Lewis is notorious for this and it’s not news it’s scandal making for sport. Who cares whose reputation you destroy in that process. The real scandal is when scumbags get together with like minded scumbags and decide to further their own aims by destroying someone else. Are the scumbags responsible if self harm or suicide eventuates? Absolutely they are, they set out to do harm, be that getting a laugh at someone elses expense or in the more extreme Slipper case what looks like a conspiracy to absolutely destroy. As for suicide being a selfish act, please Andy you can do better than this. Have you not read the plethora of new research on brain chemistry? Do you not understand reactive and organic depressive episodes? I would imagine that this poor nurse whilst not being disciplined over the matter would have felt terrible for not having ‘done the right thing’ she was forced into the spotlight internationally, did she ask for that? enormous pressure comes on her, did she ask for that? I imagine that she felt she had failed in her duties, who visited that on her? Was she emotionall fragile already? possibly, but did the radio morons have the right to add to that? NO. The best comment I have read about the radio station is that they are “morons producing programs for their moron listeners” that just about sums it up and they should have thought long and hard before they did such a stupid thing. Oh and BTW the contrived media conferences and interviews they look so fake and it is all just crocodile tears. I have never seen a more contrived and theatrical performance, they should have sold tickets.

    Posted by Sera Tonin | December 14, 2012, 11:59
  19. I am just wondering how ACMA is apparently/media reports state that they looking into whether the radio station have breached their licensing conditions when the radio station dont appear to have conditions attached to their licence relating to such matters.
    Seems like govt PR rubbish to me… or journos havent done their homework??

    Posted by for real? | December 17, 2012, 20:55
  20. This poor nurse is now in a dusty hole in the ground in India. Why isn’t 2day FM off the air? Along with all those other Sydney shock jock scum.

    Posted by Adrian Jackson | December 18, 2012, 14:23
  21. Adrian you are a tosser the silly cow topped herself for publicity, besides there are millions more curry coons to replace her so our care factor is zeo.

    Posted by anon | December 19, 2012, 0:00
  22. Once again a vexnews troll shows total disregard for federal and state laws regarding racial vilification.

    Posted by Clu clux vex | December 19, 2012, 11:03
  23. Today FM DJ’s are losers that can’t get a real job

    Posted by Alien Jones | December 28, 2012, 17:09

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