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Rediscovering prudence

By Clara Geoghegan - posted Monday, 10 December 2012

Tragedy struck due to a silly prank. How often does that happen and when will we learn?

The suicide of the London nurse, Jacintha Saldahna, who took the prank call from Aussie radio presenters, Mel Greig and Michael Christian has shocked the world. Some commentators are still trying to portray it as a harmless prank with unintended consequence and trying to exonerate the DJs from blame.

The blame must surely lie with radio station management and the culture that prevails in the medium of radio. It is a culture driven by, and which thrives on, outrageous and outlandish stunts.


And it appears that Radio 2DayFM is becoming a serial offender. This is not the first time that segments on that station have caused grief. Can we forget the Kyle Sandilands episode where he questioned an underage child about her sex life which revealed a rape at age 12? Surely, even questioning a 14 year old about their sex life on radio is child abuse. Imagine the furore the interviewer had been a Catholic priest. Have we forgotten the same Sandilands, bagging journalist Alison Stephenson because, as a television critic she pointed out the shortcomings of his television performance? It is interesting that the British media has already made this link.

This is not, of course, limited to 2DayFM. There are the 'elder statesmen' (I use the term loosely) shock jocks who paved the way for Mel and Michael and Kyle. Some of them think that the sexist language and jokes of the football dressing rooms, or trying to get a laugh from the death of the Prime Minister's father, are suitable for public consumption. Yes, it was a private function, but if I speak at a private function I assume my comments are public. I would think that would be even more true for a well known public figure.

The problem is that there is no longer any moral compass in the personal or corporate sphere to assist in determining appropriate or inappropriate content. Lip-service is paid to 'ethics' but the prevailing concept of ethics is not about virtuous behaviour, as Aristotle may have understood it, but on how far the legal limits can be pushed. Interestingly 2DayFM's first line of defence was that they had run the Royal prank episode past their lawyers. Clever lawyers can literally help you get away with murder.

There was a time when common decency and virtue was an expectation amongst those who populated the airwaves. A time when management would have refused to employ anyone who presented with what is, let's face it, plain bad manners. A time when respect for others was a central and critical value. That is not to say that these public persons had no foibles or inconsistencies in their private life – but it was private, not for public consumption.

Some will suggest such behaviour was hypocritical. Do those same people think of the consequences of placing our bad behaviour ahead of decency? We all have our angry moments, our failures, and we fall short of our own standards, but are these failings the face we freely show to our colleagues, our employers and our friends? Is this how we wish to be know and remembered?

In public and in private we are being swamped by the Big Brother ethos where being uncouth and inarticulate has become a virtue.


It seems too, that an unintended consequence is excusable. As a society we no longer seem to understand that actions have consequences. We cannot seem to project what might happen beyond the moment. One action may have a series of consequences – some intended and some unintended – and we owe it to ourselves and to others to avoid or minimise harm. Even physics tells us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

'Do good, avoid evil', seems to have degenerated into 'follow your impulse and blame someone else for the fallout'. Prudence used to be a virtue. Exercising it kept us out of trouble. It might be time to rediscover the relationship between actions and consequences. The cost of ignoring that relationship may become even more costly for our society.

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About the Author

Clara Geoghegan is an educator. She works with a range of organisations. He opinions are her own. The rule of thumb she gives her teenage children is: if you can’t tell them to their face you should not publish it on Facebook and if the language is not suitable for your grandparents it is not suitable for anyone.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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