December 10, 2012

PR, HR and the Royal nurse

Under: News | Public relations | Random thoughts

The names of two Australian journalists who made the prank phone call to the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London are mud. It’s so straightforward. Mel Greig and Michael Christian did a thoughtless thing, and someone died. Everyone is after them now.
But I have to say I thought the parent company of the radio station is managing it pretty well. They announced a review of their broadcasting practices, and they pulled all advertising over the weekend, limiting the potential damage of advertisers withdrawing of their own volition.
But more importantly, the company chief exec went public. He said it was a prank call that had terrible, tragic consequences – but that prank calls have been a staple of radio programmes for decades, the world over. No one could have foreseen this outcome, he said, and I think he was right.
Everyone is incensed against these two for this foolish thing. But if you or I ring a customer service helpline to complain, and we later learn the person who took our call has killed himself or herself, are we culpable? We’d certainly feel guilty, but surely we can’t be held responsible for the ability or otherwise of someone to deal with stress.¬†However, the¬†employers of that person are a different matter – they should know, and they should have a duty of care.
I think the hospital’s strongly worded letter of complaint to the radio station is a deflection. This poor woman was not equipped to deal with her unwitting role in a global media story, and as far as we can tell from what’s been said so far, she wasn’t sufficiently counselled or reassured. All we’ve been told is that ‘no one blamed her,’ which isn’t quite the same thing. Incidentally, I noticed the Palace was quick to say they didn’t censure her either – out of sympathy, no doubt, but also perhaps to distance themselves from a share of that blame.
The nurse does something without thinking it through, finds herself in the public eye, and kills herself. The two journalists do something without thinking it through, find themselves in the public eye, and are quite rightly now receiving medical attention for acute psychological distress.
Yes, Mel Greig and Michael Christian were daft. But I have to ask myself: which of the two companies – the radio station or the hospital – has thus far been the better employer here? And which of them has moved faster and more positively to deal with the consequences of such a sad story?

What do you think?

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