Prank calls on radio shows can be real or faked - and often are to comply with the law. (In the United States one must inform another that they are recording the conversation if they initiate the call.) Radio entertainers do prank calls to entertain. When Mel Greig and Michael Christian from Sydney's 2Day FM called a London hospital posing as Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles they were simply doing a gag. Unfortunately, the nurse who put the call through to Middleton's attending nurse was found dead suicide a couple of days later from a suicide. It's hard to know - and we may never know - how much or how little the call played into the nurse's actions.
If the story had stayed simply 'two deejays pretend to be Royals and bluff way through to Kate Middleton's attending nurse' then there would have been no harm done and the outcome probably would have enhanced their careers. News of the prank would have been an amusing story for a few days and then we all would have moved on. Regrettably, the joke they started is now forever tied to a death and might have destroyed their careers.
Was it bad luck? Bad timing? Who knows?
Greig and Christian are off-the-air. Their show has been cancelled. The radio station they worked for has started a fund for the dead nurse's family, the parent company of 2Day FM is conducting a companywide reevaluation, and obviously prank calls are now being scrutinized by every radio company in the world.
But, Greig and Christian are not the first to prank call someone.
In 2008 a couple of Canadian radio hosts phone pranked Sarah Palin. The Montreal radio duo known as "The Master Avengers" bluffed their way through handlers by pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Marc-Antoine Audette and Sebastian Trudel from CKOI/Montreal caught Palin off guard and she spoke with them for about six minutes. Topics included a Hustler porn video make about Palin, shooting animals from helicopters, and how the French president could "see Belgium" from his house.
Also in 2008 comedian and actor Russell Brand and host Jonathon Ross obtained the phone number of "Fawlty Towers" actor Andrew Sachs. Brand and Ross left voice mail messages where they talked about Brand's sexual encounter with the elderly actor's granddaughter. They also kidded about breaking into his house and molesting him (though that actually never made it onto the air). BBC Radio 2 received over 18,000 listener complaints. Russell Brand was forced to resign. Ross was suspended for 12 weeks. Eventually, Lesley Douglass, head of BBC Radio 2 was also forced out.