A feeding frenzy in a cesspit of ghouls

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THE British press - the industry I have dedicated five years of my life to - is a cesspit of ghouls, hypocrites and reptiles.

To which one might reply: ‘So, tell us something new?’

Well, I will: I have never, in the last half decade of revelations about hacking, blagging, bunging and bribing, been more ashamed to be a small part of this monolithic whole as this week in the aftermath of the death of the nurse Jacintha Saldanha.

You’ll know about this tragedy.

Two Australian DJs, Michael Christian and Mel Greig, phone the hospital treating Kate Windsor pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles. They talk to a nurse about the Duchess of Cambridge. A day after it is broadcast, Jacintha Saldanha, the person who took the 5am call and placed it through to the ward, is found dead in an apparent suicide.

Note the use of the word ‘apparent’ there.

A post-mortem examination was being carried out yesterday as this column went to press. Only an inquest, following that, will establish the cause of death for a fact.

Until then, nothing is for sure. Speculation is the only certainty.

And yet, despite this, our national newspapers - aligned with the usual online mob of muppets - have not only declared, more or less as one, that Mrs Saldanha killed herself; they have also ascertained this was a direct result of the prank.

Those DJs have been besieged with blame. The tabloids have gleefully reported that police have spoken to them. Journalists have demanded radio executives lose jobs. Columnists have dismissed the regret of those involved as self-pity.

Which is bizarre.

Because, if Mrs Saldanha really did take her life because of the events of the last week, it seems evident the blame actually lies with our national media itself.

Let’s be clear: prank phone calls are the lowest form of comedy, a crass, bullying, tin-pot humour which gets its kicks by victimising the vulnerable. And to target hospital staff - hard, honest workers ploughing through night shifts for barely a minimum wage - shows a nauseating lack of empathy.

You fooled someone saving lives? Ho and, indeed, ho.

But if that was misguided, the British media has been utterly misanthropic.

For what did it do when this stunt from Down Under emerged online? Treat it like the non-news it was? Give it a paragraph and then get back to Syria or the economy or Joey Barton doing an ‘Allo ‘Allo impression?

Naa. Too sensible, that.

The British press - pathetic and half-impotent in an era of dying circulation, and in need of any old moral panic to stir-up sales - went on a hideous feeding frenzy; demanding apologies from the hospital; questioning if staff would be disciplined; asking, incredibly, if managers were considering their position.

And all because, at 5am, a nurse made a minor mistake which had no real consequences and which certainly didn’t lead to confidential information being leaked.

So, when Mrs Saldanha realised she wasn’t just the tired, timid voice played on some two-bob Sydney station, but was, in fact, at the centre of a deliberately over-blown media storm which was topping the headlines and showing no signs of abating until heads rolled, is it any wonder she may have felt somewhat overwhelmed?

She probably foresaw a future Sun headline ‘Send Saldanha To The Tower’. And probably they would have run it too.

What a sad story.

How sickening the ghouls, hypocrites and reptiles of the British press turned it to tragedy.