Who knew a prank could be so deadly?

Talk about unintended consequences … “Kate Middleton’s nurse was tormented by radio prank before she killed herself”New York Post online headline.

Yes we’re gonna talk about it. Even though it’s just celebrity gossip, the events transpiring after the announcement of Kate’s pregnancy, highlight critical failure on behalf of the radio hosts for not being interculturally sensitive.

While the autopsy reports still wait to confirm cause of death for Jacintha Saldanha, all fingers have pointed to Mel Greig and Michael Christian, the Australian Radio DJs charged with bringing about Mrs. Saldanha’s untimely death. Pulling what they called the “biggest royal hoax”, the DJs impersonated Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles calling King Edward VII’s Hospital to check on Kate’s condition. Unaware of the ruse, Mrs. Saldanha patched the DJs through to the head nurse to answer the call. No discriminating information was released to the DJs, yet the prank phone event set into motion the death of Mrs. Saldanha.

Blamed as the culprits for Mrs. Saldanha’s tragic end, the hoax played out by the two DJs highlight the absence of intercultural sensitivities. While authorities are still investigating other factors that influenced Mrs. Saldanha’s choice, the fact is these radio DJs were not aware of the impact of their prank. Not cognizant of Mrs. Saldanha’s Indian upbringing and cultural heritage, the Australian DJs prank message was decoded differently than it would have to a British nurse. Although influenced by British colonizers, Indian culture does not possess the same core values rooted in British society. Interpreting the message as just transmission, Mrs. Saldanha could not see the ruse in motion. Yet, her failure to decode the message properly, in her mind, was a failure. Mrs. Saldanha could have seen ending her life as the only was to ‘save face’, as a way of showing respect to the group (Indian culture tends to be more collectivist and respect orientated) and fixing her error in judgment.

While this is just speculation on my part, these events highlight the need to be interculturally cognizant in international communications. No matter what type of communication: phone, radio, or internet messages are interpreted different for everyone. As Castells mentions in Communication Power that “people [can] modify the signified of the messages they receive by interpreting them according to their own cultural frames.” (Castells 127). Keeping this mind, people must be mindful of cultural diversity. In this case, the DJs assumed it was just a simple prank played on an unsuspecting British nurse, yet their lack of intercultural sensitivities lead to tragic ends.

Even though these events do not reflect international communications in the sense of public diplomacy, development communications, international relations, and networks, the tragic end of Kate’s nurse highlights the need for more intercultural awareness and decoding of messages in cultural contexts.



2 thoughts on “Who knew a prank could be so deadly?

  1. Thanks for sharing this insightful entry, Lauren! I read about this earlier this week and thought it was terribly sad. It really exemplifies the importance of understanding cross cultural communication and how it needs to be more widespread in our society. As you noted, from the cultural perspective of the DJs, this was viewed as a prank – a cruel prank, but a prank nonetheless. While a number of other factors (such as depression) may have played a role, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest that upbringing and cultural heritage may have have an influencing factor on the sad outcome of this event. If it had been a British nurse, the message may have been decoded differently. I particularly agreed with this sentence: “No matter what type of communication: phone, radio or internet messages are interpreted differently for everyone.” Let’s hope in the future that people think a little more carefully about how their messages are received and decoded by others. As you said, cultural diversity can be a powerful factor in translating messages.

    Kira V

  2. Thank you Lauren for the post. After taking the infamous Psychological and Cultural Bases of International Politics with Professor Weaver I cannot help but think of how this situation could of been prevented had either the radio hosts known the impact their prank would have on the Indian nurse. I understand that it was impossible for the hosts to have known that the nurse was not British but it does highlight the risks that are at stake if we don’t approach the world as one were others will decode our messages differently that we intended them. I hope instances such as this will spur intercultural training for the hosts and the nurses as well.

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