Justice for Jacintha

The death by suicide of Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse of Indian origin at the King Edward VII Hospital in London, where Kate Williams, the Duchess of Cambridge, was being treated, is undoubtedly tragic.

Saldanha was the victim of a hoax played by two Australian radio-jockeys pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles. What drove her to suicide is as yet unclear. However, it does seem that relentless reporting on how she fell for the hoax, the security implications of her failure to see through it and so on upset Saldanha. There have been reports too that she was due to speak to her managers on why she put the call through to the ward nurse.

It does seem that pressure snowballed, pushing Jacintha to take the extreme step.
A probe is expected to begin shortly. While it is certain to explore the action of the Australian RJs, it is important that the role of their radio station bosses be probed too and they be made accountable. After all, it is unlikely that a hoax that involved impersonation of the British monarchs would have been cleared by the owners of the radio channel and senior editors.

The incident calls for some introspection. It is not enough to describe the hoax as ‘tasteless but harmless,’ or to get those who planned and played the hoax off the hook by saying that the suicide could have never been anticipated. In today’s security obsessed world, did they think that a hoax involving the British royal family would have no negative fallout for those who fell into their trap?

They might not have expected someone to commit suicide but surely they were aware that their victims would be at the receiving end of intense media scrutiny, police investigations and so on. The point is that journalists need to pause and ponder a bit about the impact of their actions. They cannot be guided just by the need to boost TRPs and grab eyeballs. The incident underscores again the extreme appetite of some journalists for royal gossip and the depths to which they are willing to sink to satiate it.

The investigation must go beyond the role of the media in precipitating Jacintha’s distress. It must explore how her employers reacted. It has been reported that no disciplinary action was taken against her, nor was she being accused of negligence. However, did they extend her support through a difficult period or was she left to fend for herself? 

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