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SPOTLIGHT
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Hard knocks

Published on -12/13/2012, 11:15 AM

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Radio pranks are anything but new. Some are funny, some not. A few are intended merely to shock, such as the CBS broadcast of War of the Worlds -- which sent the nation into panic in 1938. Many listeners actually believed a Martian invasion was taking place.

In a medium that works hard to capture fleeting attention, the competition is fierce. Whether on-air pranks have gotten any better over time is debatable. What is known is they remain a staple of most stations' offerings.

A recent stunt by two Australian disc jockeys had the potential to rank high on the long list of historical pranks. Their "gotcha" quest fed into the insatiable appetite for all things royal by impersonating Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. The radio duo were able to connect to a nurse in the room of the hospitalized and pregnant Duchess of Cambridge.

Even with intentional poor British accents, the DJs pulled it off. They convinced the King Edward VII's Hospital employees to reveal confidential information about the acute morning sickness being suffered by the former Kate Middleton. Interest in her condition is high. The first child born to Kate and husband Prince William would be third in line for the British throne.

The buzz created by the successful hoax was immediate. News outlets around the world picked up the story as an amusing insight into the royal family. The Aussie DJs were a hit.

And then amusing turned grisly when one of the nurses was found dead. Three days after falling for the prank and putting the call through to the duchess' room, nurse Jacintha Saldanha apparently committed suicide.

The fallout has been swift. The DJs were pulled from the air, the station promised a hefty payment to her survivors, criticism and hostility arrived in Sydney from around the globe, the hospital is re-examining its privacy policies, the Australian Communications and Media Authority is considering an investigation, Scotland Yard has been on it since the event.

We do not believe the DJs committed any crime. They're arguably guilty of bad taste, but that's to be expected because of their chosen profession.

Who's to blame will be a question long after Ms. Saldanha is buried. We'll leave that for others to debate.

Rather, we'd like to use the opportunity to comment on the options available to anybody who suffers. First off, everybody does. The world can be and often is a cruel place. Even those who appear to lead charmed lives wrestle with their own demons.

How one resolves the conflict encountered on a regular basis is an individual decision. Many turn to religion. Others find comfort amongst family and friends. Some shield themselves with therapy, or self-medicate with alcohol, drugs or behavioral approaches.

Still, many are left in isolation. Whether a willful act or lack of capability, such individuals believe themselves alone against the world. Seemingly cornered by circumstances beyond their control, suicide is a common result.

The World Health Organization estimates almost 1 million people die annually from suicide. It's regularly in the top 20 leading causes of death worldwide in all age brackets. For people ages 15 to 44, suicide is the third leading cause of death.

Obviously, not all suicides can be prevented. When an individual has the both the desire and means to turn anguish into destructive action, it is almost impossible to stop. If no warning signs are given, surviving relatives and friends are left with no answers.

But if warnings are given, pay close attention. You might only be able to offer a compassionate ear, but that might be enough.

If you are the one with suicidal thoughts, know you're not alone. Reach out, find relief in some manner, but know it will get better. No matter the insult, the injury or impossible situation, blue skies lie ahead. Every dark period is followed by light -- but only if you allow yourself to see the day.

Life is undeniably hard. Accepting this truth allows one to appreciate the good times that much more.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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