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Radio station defends prank; royals close ranks

AFP-JIJI

Prince William abandoned an event Sunday to be with his wife, Kate, as the Australian radio station engulfed in the row over the hoax phone call death promised to review its practices.

William pulled out of attending a military tournament in London to spend more time with Kate, who was treated in a London hospital last week for acute morning sickness.

In London, a St. James’s Palace spokesman said William had changed his plans to “spend Sunday privately with the duchess instead” given the possibility that the acute morning sickness she had suffered might recur.

And he warned that to respect her privacy they would not routinely be issuing reports on Kate’s condition.

The death of a nurse at the hospital who was duped by two presenters at 2Day FM who were trying to get Kate on the phone, has unleashed a backlash against the station’s owners.

Indian-born mother-of-two Jacintha Saldanha, 46, is thought to have taken her own life, although British police have refused to commit themselves ahead of the inquest.

Executives at Southern Cross Austereo, owners of the Sydney station, held an emergency meeting Sunday. They were considering a letter from Lord Simon Glenarthur, chairman of London’s King Edward VII’s Hospital, that protested against the “appalling” prank.

“It is too early to know the full details leading to this tragic event, and we are anxious to review the results of any investigation that may be made available to us or made public,” Southern Cross Austereo said in its response.

“We can assure you that we will be fully cooperative with all investigations,” it added, according to Australian Associated Press. “The outcome was unforeseeable and very regrettable. I can assure you we are taking immediate action and reviewing the broadcast and processes involved.”

Saldanha was found dead Friday, three days after she answered a call at the hospital from radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian, posing as Queen Elizabeth II and William’s father, Prince Charles. There was no receptionist on duty, and Saldanha put them through to a colleague who divulged details of Kate’s recovery.

The prank call was prerecorded and it was vetted by lawyers before being broadcast.

The radio station said it tried to contact the hospital five times to discuss what it had recorded before going to air.

Rhys Holleran, chief executive of Southern Cross Austereo, said nobody could have reasonably foreseen the consequences of what has been described by the hospital as an “appalling” hoax.

He said he was satisfied that the appropriate checks were conducted before the prerecorded 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 death of Saldanha unleashed a torrent of online anger directed at the presenters, who have been taken off air and are in hiding, while reports said advertisers had suspended their accounts with the broadcaster.

On Saturday, William told guests at a charity function that morning sickness should be renamed as 30-year-old Kate had been suffering night and day.

London Mayor Boris Johnson described the hoax call incident as “an appallingly sad story.”

“I am sure that the hoaxers will be absolutely full of self-loathing and remorse. But their future careers in broadcasting is a matter for them and their station,” he told Sky News television.

At the Saldanha family home in Bristol, southwest England, relatives and friends gathered round to comfort husband, Benedict Barboza, and the couple’s son and daughter, ages 14 and 16.

She had moved to Britain around 12 years ago.

In a message posted on his Facebook page, Barboza reportedly wrote: “I am devastated with the tragic loss of my beloved wife Jacintha in tragic circumstances. She will be laid to rest in Shirva, India.”

Saldanha’s sister-in-law, Irene D’Souza, said by telephone from the town of Shirva, near Mangalore on south India’s west coast, that she had been due to visit them at Christmas.”It is hard to believe Jacintha could commit suicide, as she was not the type of woman to do it,” D’Souza said.

While the British press on Sunday condemned the hoax, Australian media said it is not the time for “hysterical finger-pointing.”

Greig and Christian have both already apologized for the hoax call. Holleran said they were “shattered” and undergoing counseling.