The decision to give an award to one of the Australian DJs who made a prank call to the London hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was being treated, which was then linked to the suicide of a nurse, has been criticised as a “disgraceful” act.
Jacintha Saldanha was found dead three days after she took the call from Michael Christian and his colleague Mel Greig when they rang King Edward VII’s Hospital where the Duchess was being treated for severe morning sickness in December.
Christian and Greig were suspended by 2Day FM in Sydney in the aftermath of the incident. But Christian, who has returned to the airwaves on a Melbourne sister station, was this week named “top jock” by his employer.
Christian was joint winner of the Southern Cross Austereo network’s internal competition to find the “best in the land”.
The prank DJ will be “jetting off to LA for a tour of KISS studios”, according to the network’s website, as a reward for his role in SCA’s community of “seasoned and emerging talent.”
Christian, who returned to the airwaves despite Greig still being on leave, said in a statement he was “thrilled” with the company’s award.
“From the start I felt like I had something to prove to myself,” he said. “That regardless of all that’s happened in the past few months I'm still at the top of my game. So it felt good to see my name at the top of the final leader-board.”
Christian and Greig’s call, during which they pretended to be the Queen and the Prince of Wales, prompted a global backlash. Saldanha put the call through to a colleague, who disclosed some details of the duchess’s condition. Saldanha, a mother-of-two, was found hanged in her flat three days after the call.
Stephen Conroy, Australian communications minister, criticised the award. He said: “There was some very serious consequences of what was a prank and to be seen to be rewarding people so soon after such an event, I think is just in bad taste.”
Keith Vaz MP, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, who acted as a spokesman for the family, said he thought giving an award to Christian was “distasteful and disgraceful.”
Mr Vaz said: “It is ludicrous that the company that employs this DJ, having faced such international condemnation, should have given the award to him.
“It sends out completely the wrong message at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. The family are still grief-stricken and await the results of the inquest, which will resume in September.”
However 2Day FM presenter Kyle Sandilands defended his colleague. He said: “He’s (Christian) a good announcer. So, what, we are just going to bash this kid for the rest of his life for one mistake that he’s make?
“It’s a terrible situation what happened but the kid’s a kid. We can't just keep bullying him in the press every time he does anything good or bad.”
Christian and Greig apologised for the prank call that went wrong following a media outcry. Greig said she would fly to London to give evidence at Saldanha’s inquest.
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