Clearly, there has always been a substantial commercial market for juvenile stunts at the expense of others. And when those stunts are directed at the high-flown and privileged, it's hard to argue they are any more than harmless fun. What green-blooded republican Australian doesn't get a kick from poking fun at an anachronistic class structure built on the notion that some flesh and blood individuals walk on a different planet to the rest of us?
But there has to be a line with these things. Kate Middleton may have married into The Firm, but she was still just a woman in hospital being treated for complications related to her pregnancy. Yes, of course, it was probably just morning sickness. But with the sacred seraphim within three or four arms' length of the throne, no risks are taken either with patient or privacy. And that might help explain the sort of pressures the nurse felt.
In those circumstances, an astute producer/program director should have decided that the proper decision was not to seek to breach the sacred vow of confidentiality between patient and medical practitioner. Yes, the idea of the Royal Family is ridiculous and invites adolescent colonial tomfoolery, but there are other avenues to do that. And in any case, who needs the aggravation?
Others have pointed out that ethical considerations (beyond the law) almost certainly were not take into account in deciding to put this stunt to air. That is because the DJs are not journalists (and supposedly subject to a code of ethics), but entertainers. And to me, this gets to the crux of it. What price does the public put on its own entertainment? Is it anything within the law? Or should we be thinking about what this sort of pushing-the-envelope pranksterism (typified at its worst by Kyle Sandilands on the same station) says about us and the society we live in? Dennis Muller of Melbourne University sums it up:
"It is entirely foreseeable that bad behaviour will have bad consequences, and it is here that 2DAY FM, its licence-holder Southern Cross Austereo, its management and its board of directors are culpable.They have created a culture of reckless indifference to the welfare of others and contempt for norms of decency.
"There is nothing more personal or private than information about a person’s health. It sits at the very core of what the concept of personal privacy means.So where were the adults in the room at 2DAYFM? Are there any? Or have we reached the point where everyone's life issues, however private and sensitive, are just fodder for the gladiatorial entertainment confected for audiences by cynical broadcast licensees?
"To obtain private information about a person’s health without that person’s consent is itself a serious breach of ethics. To obtain it by deception makes it worse, and to then broadcast it publicly over the radio makes it beyond all civilised standards of behaviour.
"How these two broadcasters thought any of this was acceptable beggars belief. However, the real culprits here are their managers and employers. It is they who create the climate in which such conduct is even conceivable. It is they who, in the final analysis, are responsible for the material going to air."
It seems those questions will have to be left for later. For we have now reached the backlash to the backlash. So that means the correct thing to do is feel awfully for the DJs and protect them from the mob (who are indistinguishable from the audience). And sure enough, "Michael and Mel" have done their ritual penance, but only in front of the cameras of Nine and Seven mind you - ostensibly because those are the ones who can best fund their own and the Southern Cross Austereo legal bill. No money is to be had out of cash-strapped Channel Ten and the publicly funded ABC. Even contrition in the Australian media is a business opportunity.
So far the script is playing out to pattern. After this period of ritualised outrage on social media and sponsorship withdrawal and sobbing on camera, normal transmission slowly will be returned. Half the population will go back to listening to angry old right-wing geezers venting about refugees and other half will tune into 20-something bimbos playing phone pranks on the unsuspecting.
All for our entertainment.