Fools at 2DAY FM
You may have heard that recently two presenters on 2DAY FM telephoned a hospital in England and asked for personal medical information about one of its patients, while on-air.
The phone was answered by a staff member who transferred the call to the ward where the personal information was given out. The nurse who answered the phone, Jacintha Saldanha, subsequently committed suicide.
Prior to the not entirely unpredictable terrible outcome, the radio station and staff thought it was funny and a harmless prank. There was no malice, and there was no intent to injure, but this is a classic case where "prank calls" have not been thought through, regardless of the outcome.
Let's break down what occurred:
Trivialising the nature of the illness
The patient was a member of the British royal family. Apparently the radio station thought it was harmless because the Duchess of Cambridge's illness was morning sickness. This trivialises the fact that she needed to be hospitalised - no-one wants to be in hospital or have someone in their hospital who is not sick. Was the illness "funny" because it was a woman's illness? Would the radio station have called Prince Charles if he had prostate cancer? Why is an illness that was sufficient to hospitalise an adult woman considered funny?
Breach of the Privacy Act 1988
In Australia the activities of the presenters would have placed the hospital and its staff members in clear breach of the Privacy Act 1988. The Act deals with "health information" specifically, and does not differentiate between HIVAIDS and a broken toe.
Health information, as defined by the Privacy Act, is "sensitive information", a category that includes criminal history, sexual preference, genetic information, and racial or ethnic origin. It is particularly protected.
Work Health and Safety Laws
Notwithstanding the nurse's death, there are Work Health and Safety laws at issue here - the woman could have been injured as a result through depression, being ostracised, damage to her career prospects (this may well have affected her hiring prospects in the future), the derision of colleagues or acquaintances or more. She didn't get paid to suffer these things.
The common law in both Australia and the United Kingdom protects the disclosure of information that is imparted in a confidential context. Again, 2DAY has opened innocent staff up to an action for breach.
Penalties for the conduct
Disclosure of information in breach of the Act renders the discloser - in this case the nurse and her employer would have been if they were in Australia or the patient was an Australian citizen - liable for a penalty of up to 1 year imprisonment or 60 penalty units (a substantial fine). No-one goes to work expecting some person who, for the sake of advertising, dupes them by false pretences (they falsely pretended to be persons they were not) into disclosing "sensitive information". Was that actually funny? Would you like someone to do that to you at work? Your job and your livelihood are potentially put in jeopardy by someone trying to make money by selling advertising.
Message to 2DAY
2DAY makes money by selling advertising. To maximise the income, it needs to maintain or increase the number of listeners. To maximise the number of listeners it has created a situation where innocent health workers have been put in potential or actual breach of laws, creating sadness and hurt in the workplace (without even taking into account the tragic death). Perhaps prior to the next prank call 2DAY's staff should consider the sad moments in their own working lives and how others have created or contributed to those moments.