Near the entrance to the old convict
settlement at Port Arthur is a quiet memorial to the people who died there ten years ago at
the hands of a crazed gunman. It is a sad place, designed for contemplation.
Notably, there is no mention of the gunman’s name. Only the names of the
victims are given.
Surrounded by painful history, one can’t
help but think that this is how it should be. There is something wrong with a
murderer being remembered better than those who died. But this isn’t the way the media works. It
was predictable that with the tenth anniversary of the massacre upon us, the
gunman’s name would be given more prominence than his victims’. A cover story in The Bulletin yesterday and this piece in the Smage led to a call from the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma for journalists to give more thought to how
mentions of the gunman can retraumatise the victims.
The Australian Director of Dart, Cait McMahon,
has been talking to survivors of Port
Arthur about what they want
from the media and yesterday she issued a media release calling for:
“Accuracy, coupled with a constructive, forward-looking focus and a
de-emphasis on gory, salacious or speculative angles are the main
things they would like to see.” She continues:
Today we have seen a national magazine produce an in-depth feature on this incident which was, in parts, admirable.
However, as other media feel obliged to take up this story, especially
the aspects that focus on the perpetrator, they should pause to
consider that for many, renewed coverage of the man who caused them so
much pain and loss can re-traumatise and open old wounds.
Repeated mentions of the perpetrator are hard, rubbing in the fact that he will
be remembered better and for longer than dead loved ones. It’s a knotty issue. Excellent journalism is
always uncomfortable, rarely morally simple. The Dart Centre offers resources
on reporting trauma,
but there are no easy answers, no list of dos and don’ts. Life – and death –
isn’t like that.
The Journalists Code of Ethics describes the job as being to “search, disclose, record, question, entertain,
suggest and remember”. Clearly that means more than telling sanitised uplifting
stories. So were The Bulletin and the Smage wrong to
publish the story about the inner workings of the gunman’s mind? Who can deny the fascination he holds,
precisely because he represents chaos, evil and mortality? Who can deny that
such stories will be very well read? In fact as in fiction, the evil-doers are
often the most compelling. We cannot and should not censor reality.
But the gunman is not the most important
part of the story. One man did the shooting. Thirty five died. Thousands live
with the legacy. Their story is more important. Their journey is the one that
most needs recording.