Joke’s gone too far

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The line between what is legally and morally right and wrong is increasingly getting blurred, with the victims as the losers writes NOEL G DE SOUZA in our December 2, 2012 issue

Some people become famous for outrageous acts. If media persons commit such acts for their own personal gain, then they should not be surprised when their actions boomerang back onto themselves.

Three females committed sacrilegeous acts in a Russian orthodox church with blatant disregard for the sensitivities of worshippers and those who respect religious freedom. The three women in question were sentenced to jail terms. One of them succeeded in her appeal, but two others did not and will serve their jail terms far away from their young families. The perpetrators brought this on themselves.

There were protests and even deaths when a Danish cartoonist drew cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed carrying a bomb. This actions and those of the newspaper which publicised the offending cartoon were defended on the grounds of press freedom.

A cartoon series recently showed the Hindu God Krishna uttering phrases invented by the writer of the series. Offended Hindus protested, but their protests were rejected by the producers on the grounds that no copyright was possible on the words of Krishna.

Many British royals are popular amongst both, monarchists and republicans. There are republics within the Commonwealth; India was the first to become a republic. The royals who attended the Commonwealth Games in Delhi some months ago were treated with respect and with genuine friendship.

Prince William and his wife Kate are popular royals. Their youth and their ability to mix with a wide variety of people who constitute the Commonwealth is admirable. But the paparazzi hound them wherever they go. These are defined as freelance photographers who have no permission to photograph their targets, and do so with stealth. They relentlessly hunt their targets in every possible way.

The most obnoxious example of such privacy intrusion was taking telephoto pictures of Kate Middleton sunbathing. The pictures made prize items for sale. They were published, amongst others, in several magazines in Italy and Germany. There might be many a person who enjoys seeing images of women in states of undress, but in most cases those images show models who have been paid for their work. Here was a case of no consent at all.

Years ago, Sarah, the Duchess of York, was subjected to a similar situation when  telephoto images of her with a boyfriend resulted in the breakdown of her marriage and her banishment from royal occasions. The pictures were published in the glossy French magazine, Paris Match. That might have been a coup for the photographer and the magazine, but Sarah’s life has been damaged forever.

Freelance photographers/journalists are on the lookout for saleable stories; they harass and trouble celebrities, very often to the point of despair. We have seen such intrusions in the lives of Nicole Kidman and Madonna in Sydney.
Recently, two employees of Sydney radio station 2Day FM, DJs Mel Greig and Michael Christian, made a hoax call to the Edward VII Hospital in London. They pretended to be the Queen and Prince Charles, and asked to be put through to Kate Middleton, spouse of Prince William. Jacintha Saldanha, an Indian-origin (west coast Konkani speaking) nurse, took the call.

The brief conversation (a prank) was broadcast live on radio with imitation sound of a Corgi dog for humorous effect. What was not funny was that Jacintha was found dead two days later. Apparently, she had committed suicide.
A shocked hospital expressed its sympathies to the young nurse’s family. It appears from press images that the nurses in the hospital were the ones most shocked. The question arises as to what admonishment was meted out to Jacintha for her to have taken her own life. Was any counselling provided to her?

Price William and Kate Middleton have expressed their grief saying that they “are deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jacintha Saldanha” and that “their thoughts and prayers are with Jacintha Saldanha’s family, friends and colleagues …”.

Rhys Holleran, the CEO of  Southern Cross Austereo, has announced the suspension of the two pranksters and the withdrawal of all advertising on 2Day FM (some major advertisers had already withdrawn). The two pranksters are being given counselling.

Because of major intrusions of privacy by an unfettered British media, the Lord Justice Leveson inquiry was set up. Its deliberations brought out shocking revelations. In the final 2000-page report, Lord Leveson calls for the establishment of an independent body to replace the ineffectual Press Complaints Commission. The new body would be able to fine, demand corrections and apologies.

The Labour Party favours accepts the Leveson recommendations in toto. So does Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister and his Liberal Democrats party. Prime Minister Cameron, on the other hand, wants to preserve ‘press freedom’ or ‘freedom of speech’. The tragedy of Jacintha Saldanha has prompted Lord Leveson to call for legislation to stop online activity degenerating into ‘mob rule’ and ‘trial by Twitter’.

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