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Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1959.3/192759
- Ethics and trauma: lessons from media coverage of Black Saturday
- Muller, Denis
- Covering Victoria's 'Black Saturday' bushfires in February 2009 traumatised many of the media people involved, and confronted them with many difficult ethical dilemmas. These concerned access to the scene and to property, how to treat survivors and victims, how to choose what to publish and how to balance the competing pressures induced by editors, rivals, the authorities and the survivors and victims. The Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne, as its first research project, examined the experiences of media people who covered the fires, both at the fire ground and in studios and newsrooms. The research consisted of 28 in-depth semistructured interviews with volunteers who, in the end, came from many branches of news media and from a wide range of professional backgrounds: reporters, photographers, camera operators, video journalists, news desk personnel, editors and news directors. The term 'media people' is used to comprehend this range. The intent of the research was educative. Its purpose was to acquire material from which the profession, the authorities and the public might learn lessons about the effects of covering a major disaster close to home, and about how it might be done better in the future. It is not normative: it does not make judgments about the rightness or otherwise of individual instances of behaviour or the quality of the coverage. It allows the practitioners to tell their stories and make their own judgments. Through this, patterns emerge that suggest systemic ethical weaknesses as well as extraordinary humanity on the part of individuals. These are presented as conclusions. The emotional impact of covering the fires was obvious during the interviews. Few respondents got through the interviews without showing emotion---3 to 6 months after the event. Some were kind enough to say afterwards that the interview had been helpful. The fieldwork was done by the author and by Mr Michael Gawenda, Director of the Centre for Advanced Journalism and a former Editor of 'The Age' (1997 to 2004). The findings were presented at a conference at the University of Melbourne on 19 November 2009. They are summarised here under five headings: access, treatment of people, maelstrom of pressure, deciding what to publish and emotional impact.
- Publication type
- Journal article
- Australian Journal of Rural Health, Vol. 18, no. 1 (Feb 2010), pp. 5-10
- Publication year
- FOR Code(s)
- 1110 Nursing; 1117 Public Health and Health Services
- Australia; Black Saturday (2009); Bushfires; Disasters; Emotional response; Ethics; Journalists; Media coverage; Media people; Media personnel; Regional areas; Stress; Trauma
- Blackwell Publishing
- Publisher URL
- Copyright © 2010 The Author. Journal compilation © 2010 National Rural Health Alliance Inc.
- Peer reviewed