Royal hoax call: Australian RJs apologise to Indian nurse's family

Royal hoax call
Two Australian radio hosts who made a hoax call to an elite London hospital treating Prince William's pregnant wife Kate today apologised, as they tearfully spoke of being "shattered, gutted, heartbroken" over the death of an Indian-origin nurse caught up in the prank.

Radio station 2Day FM presenters Mel Greig and Michael Christian said they were devastated by the news of 46-year-old Jacintha Saldanha's death, according to media reports here.

When asked how they reacted when told of the death of Saldanha, the mother of two, both DJs broke down in tears.

While Christian said he was "shattered, gutted, heartbroken", Greig replied it was "gut wrenching", the worst phone call of her life. "Our deepest sympathies are with the family and the friends (of Saldanha)," Christian said.

"It came into my head that I just wanted to reach out to them (the family), give them a big hug and say sorry. I hope they're OK, I really do," Greig said.

The two presenters were interviewed by Channel Nine and the Seven Network.

Greig and Christian posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles made the call which was received by Saldanha at London's King Edward VII Hospital.

She put them through to a colleague who divulged details of the pregnant Kate's health conditions. Saldanha was subsequently found dead under mysterious circumstances.

According to 'The Age', their partial transcript pre-recorded interview with A Current Affair, will be screened tonight.

The host Tracey Grimshaw asked who came up with the idea for the prank call.

"It was just the team sitting down before the show just had the idea for just a simple harmless phone call," Christian said.

"... when we thought about making a call, it was going to go for 30 seconds. We were going to be hung up on, and that was it," Christian said.

Greig said: "We thought a hundred people before us would've tried it. We thought it was such a silly idea and the accents were terrible and not for a second did we expect to speak to Kate, let alone have a conversation with anyone at the hospital. We wanted to be hung up on."

Christian was adamant the effect of the prank call could not have been foreseen. "These prank calls are made every day, on every radio station in every country around the world and they have been for a long time and no-one could've imagined this to happen," he said.

Grimshaw told Fairfax Media this afternoon that the interview was "very intense" with a lot of people in the room, including radio station staff and supporters. Grimshaw said she felt sympathy for the pair.

"They're at a certain point on the food chain. There are other people who made the decision to put it to air, it wasn't live to air, there was a decision made after that prank call was recorded to put it to air, and virtually all the focus has been on them," Grimshaw said.

The host said she was mindful that anyone in their situation would be fragile and the interview was a chance for the presenters to say what they wanted to say.

'The Australian' report said that 2Day FM was providing intense counselling to the pair who came under global criticism after making the prank call.

"We're getting the support that we need and we've got those around us that are helping us," Christian said.

"If we played any involvement in her death then we're very sorry for that. And time will only tell," Greig said.

Meanwhile, the boss of 2Day FM today said that staff from the station followed proper procedures and had tried at least five times to contact those involved in the prank call.

"It is absolutely true to say that we actually did attempt to contact those people (the nurses) on multiple occasions," company's chief executive Rhys Holleran said.

"We rang them up to discuss what we had recorded. Before it went to air? Absolutely, we attempted to contact them on no less than five occasions," he said.

Following the incident, prank calls have been banned from all Southern Cross Austereo shows. Owner of 2Day FM Southern Cross Austereo today announced cancellation of the Hot 30 show and issued a company-wide suspension of prank calls.

Greig and Christian would not return to the airwaves "until further notice" after discussion with their bosses, the company said in a statement.

The DJs also reportedly deleted their Twitter accounts following Saldanha's death. It was said that the two have suffered abuse on the social networking site and leading advertisers including Coles and Telstra pulled their support from 2Day FM.

The communications watchdog Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) is said to be looking at considering an investigation into the matter without going through the usual process of letting the station handle complaints initially.

Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was quoted by media reports as saying that ACMA had taken the rare step of talking directly to 2Day FM to work out if an inquiry is needed into the call which preceded the death of a British nurse.

Usually, Australian consumers make complaints first to the media outlet concerned. If the complaint is unresolved, then ACMA becomes involved.

"The ACMA is talking to 2Day FM about the facts and issues surrounding the prank call," he said.

The news also adversely affected shares of the the Sydney radio station company with share price falling by more than seven per cent.

Shares in Southern Cross Media Group, also known as Southern Cross Austereo, which owns 2Day FM, were down 8.5 cents, or 7.7 per cent, at 1.02 Australian dollars, the Australian Associated press reported.

Southern Cross Austereo chairman Max Moore-Wilton, in a letter to the chairman of King Edward VII's Hospital, assured that the company will cooperate with any investigation.

Scotland Yard is understood to have asked police in Sydney for assistance, with a view to interviewing the two DJs ahead of an inquest into Saldanha's death.

Nick Kaldas, deputy commissioner for New South Wales Police, confirmed the Scotland Yard's request, telling Sky News: "It hasn't been indicated to us that an offence has occurred and they have not actually asked for anything yet."

"They've simply touched base, let us know of their interest and they will get back to us if they actually want something done. Nothing has been requested of us yet," he

said.

A New South Wales Police spokesman said: "As our policing colleagues in London continue to examine events leading up to the death of London nurse Jacintha Saldanha overnight, we will be providing them with whatever assistance is required."

A post-mortem examination is due to be held this week and an inquest opened and adjourned at Westminster Coroner's Court, Scotland Yard said. The death is not being treated as suspicious.

In his letter to the hospital, Max said: "we are all saddened by the events of last few days. They are truly tragic. It is too early to know full details leading to this tragic event and we are anxious to review the results of any investigation that may be made available to us or made public. We can assure you that we will fully cooperate with all investigations."

Meanwhile, Conroy today also said ACMA had received complaints about the call, and was considering a fast-track inquiry into the matter. He said the authority had acted swiftly on the matter over the weekend "and hopefully we'll hear from them shortly".

Also, thousands of Australians have come out in support of the two broadcasters, holding that the two presenters were not to blame for the tragic death of Saldanha.

News Ltd, which conducted a poll, revealed that over two-thirds of voters of more than 11,000 people who participated said the radio pranksters should not be blamed

for the tragedy.

Grimshaw, who interviewed the two DJs, said: "What has happened with this poor nurse in England is not going to be helped by bullying these two people into some sort of breakdown. I was very mindful that anyone in their situation would be fragile, and very mindful of not becoming part of the problem.

"We talked about the process of the prank call, how it came about, what happens after you record something like that, where are the checks and balances, what is the network's policy on prank calls, where do you draw the line.

"We talked about their future and we talked about whether prank calls should be banned."

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