One of the Australian radio presenters who made a prank call to a London hospital treating Prince William’s wife Kate on Monday sobbed as she recalled hearing the news that a nurse had been found dead.
Mel Greig and fellow presenter Michael Christian from Sydney radio station 2Day FM have been in hiding and undergoing counselling since their hoax sparked global outrage following the apparent suicide of Jacintha Saldanha.
In her first comments since Saldanha’s death last week in London, an emotional Greig said she was devastated at being told the Indian-born nurse had died.
“Unfortunately I remember that moment very well because I haven’t stopped thinking about it since it happened,” she told Australia’s Seven Network in a segment ahead of the broadcast of a full interview later Monday.
“And I remember my first question was, was she a mother?
In a separate interview with the Nine Network, Greig added: “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.”
The call, with Greig and Christian posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, was taken by mother-of-two Saldanha, 46, at London’s King Edward VII Hospital.
With no receptionist on duty in the early morning, she put them through to a colleague who divulged details of the pregnant Kate’s recovery from severe morning sickness.
Saldanha was subsequently found dead, although British police have refused to confirm whether it was suicide pending an inquest.
Her death sparked an outpouring of fury against the radio station and the presenters, although the broadcaster Monday said no-one could have foreseen the tragic consequences of what the hospital says was an “appalling” stunt.
Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, which owns 2Day FM, said the station called the hospital five times to discuss what it had recorded before going to air.
He said he was satisfied that the appropriate checks were conducted before the pre-recorded segment was broadcast.
“It is absolutely true to say that we actually did attempt to contact those people on multiple occasions,” Holleran told Fairfax radio.
“We rang them up to discuss what we had recorded.
“We attempted to contact them on no less than five occasions,” he added. “We wanted to speak to them about it.”
Holleran did not say whether the broadcaster was given any response. The stunt was vetted by lawyers before being aired in Sydney last week, according to the station.
“No one could have reasonably foreseen what has happened,” added Holleran, although he said the station was reviewing its actions.
“We think that’s an appropriate thing to be doing and we’ll do it.”
His comments came after Southern Cross Austereo held an emergency board meeting Sunday to discuss the growing furore which has seen all advertising suspended, and vowed to cooperate with any investigations.
The case has triggered demands for tougher regulation of the electronic media although Australia’s press regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, has not commented on whether the station broke any rules.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the ACMA was considering whether to initiate an inquiry beyond its usual process of giving broadcasters 60 days to respond to complaints.
“While the ACMA is gathering the facts and working through the process it would be unwise for me to comment,” said Conroy.
Sections of the British press have savagely condemned the hoax and some people online say the presenters have blood on their hands. But Australian media have hit back at “hysterical finger-pointing”.