Georgina Guedes

Don't make the call

2012-12-14 07:03

Georgina Guedes

When I was a kid, I made a few prank calls. A friend and I thought it was terribly funny to call various people with the old "Is your fridge running?" gag. Prank calls are hilarious...when you're 7 years old.

I lost my taste for them when a friend and I called my grandmother, and had a bit of a giggle over some silly joke. My grandmother was a good sport, but picturing her getting up to answer the phone and then returning to the lounge after being the subject of a jibe filled me with remorse.

I called her back, confessed and apologised. She was very sweet about it, but that was the end of my prank calling career. By calling my grandmother I had attached a human face to the person on the other end, and I had realised that what was amusing to me wasn't funny or entertaining for the recipient.

Humiliation isn't funny

As I grew up, I've applied this kind of reasoning to all kinds of things - stork parties, hen's nights, 21st birthday parties - where the purpose of a bit of humiliation is fun for the onlookers, but not so much for the recipient. And I turn the radio to another station when radio DJs make their prank calls.

So, when I'd heard that two radio DJs in Australia had called St Edward's Hospital, where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated for a severe case of morning sickness, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, I was, to coin a royal phrase, not amused.

The royal couple had announced the pregnancy early because they knew what speculation such a hospitalisation would bring, and were being fairly open with the public about the Duchess's condition. Nursing staff were doing their best to care for their high-profile patient, and the interference of some pranksters trying to obtain private medical information was, in my opinion, silly at best and vulgar and intrusive at worst.

However, that's where it ends for me. That the nurse who put through the call would be humiliated was certain, that she would get into trouble with her employers was guaranteed, that she would potentially be ridiculed by the press was a done deal. But that she would later commit suicide is not the natural progression of the series of events.

Be gentle with other people

The two radio DJs put into action a succession of events that resulted in the poor nurse's death. But I disagree with the notion that they are responsible for her death. There is an inquiry currently taking place in Australia, hinged on the fact that it is illegal to play a recorded conversation without the recipient's permission - which clearly was not given. For this, they should receive whatever fines are appropriate.

But the subsequent baying of people for the prosecution of the DJs is similar to the kind of public derision that resulted in the nurse's death in the first place. People should always be cautious about pointing fingers - whether in laughter, derision or blame - because there is always a person with feelings at the other end.

I don't believe that prank calls should be made - not because they might result in someone's suicide - but because they're just not that funny, and even if you find them so, the humour is at someone else's expense. They're not likely to result in someone's death, but they will probably make someone feel a bit stupid, which isn't a very nice thing to do.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer, editor and trainer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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