So at least it’s finally official. Journalism in
Australia is unwell. Very unwell. It’s been heading that way for a long time
following the craft’s humiliating surrender to the corporate and government
spinners in the ‘80s and ‘90s. But now we must even have a debate as to whether
a well-researched and soberly-written article on Martin Bryant, murderer of 35
people, is in the public interest?

In the past 24 hours we’ve seen Herald Sun editor Peter Blunden (whose
paper has recently lavished thousands of words on the exploits of Joe Korp,
assorted gangland figures and other brutal, unsavoury types), 3AW morning host
Neil Mitchell and ABC Radio National (now there’s an unlikely troika of
comrades) all questioning The
Bulletin’s
decision to publish this week’s cover
story.

Ssssh, they say. Let’s not mention Bryant. It offends
too many people. It turns Bryant into a “celebrated” figure.
Pardon?

Anyone in journalism who does not take into account the
sensitivities of trauma victims should not be in the caper in the first place.
But to suggest Bryant should be ignored is, at worst, sheer hypocrisy and a
total distortion of what journalism is about. Or used to be about. The logic is
not only faulty (Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Henry Kissinger would all be
consigned to the archives and never mentioned again) but to me, as a journalist,
offensive.

We are in the news business. Martin Bryant killed 35
people. His actions forced the introduction of national gun laws and defined the
early prime ministership of John Howard. Julie-Anne Davies, a Walkley-award
winning journalist, spent the better part of four months working on this piece.
We had long discussions about the sensitive nature of this case. She interviewed
dozens of people, including victims who are desperate to know more about what
drove Bryant. We have the psychologist who assessed him and declared him sane
now questioning his original diagnosis. We have an interview with Bryant’s
mother, who sheds new light on his life and
motivations.

This is not news? What a sorry and pathetic state
Australian journalism is in when it comes to this. End of
story.

Peter Fray

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