Shift in the Reporting of Domestic Violence Needed in Australian Newsrooms

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Often domestic violence doesn't become apparent until it turns physical. Source: Robert Car
Often domestic violence doesn’t become apparent until it turns physical. Source: Robert Car

Domestic violence has long been an epidemic that Australians have ignored, leaving the victims and survivors to believe they are the outliers of society, ignored and alone in their suffering.

Over the course of one year, one woman dies at the hands of her partner every week, yet reports of these tragic incidents, until recently, rarely surfacee in Australian newspapers.  There was little media investigation of the cultural attitudes that allow this violence to thrive in our society.

Journalists are often cautious when approaching these stories due to ethical and legal dangers that threaten to ruin their career, resulting in stories being ignored or not properly covered.

Many believe that in order to have domestic violence put in the front of Australian minds, journalists need to shift their perspective of the issue from a personal matter to an issue that concerns all Australians.

Media Commentator for Crikey, Margaret Simons believes the reporting of this national shame is lacking greatly, and the focus should be put on the deeply embedded sexism in Australian society that allows this violence to thrive.

“It is understandably difficult for a journalist to approach this issue without the release of new statistics or a horrific murder,” she said.

“It’s good to see in recent times that the quantum of reporting has increased, the questions are is it possible for the media to interrogate these embedded social issues that lead to this gendered violence.”

“Until quite recently, the police and journalists saw domestic violence as a private issue, and it didn’t become public until it turned into a tragedy.”

“It is a very rare to find a family in Australia that hasn’t been effected by Domestic violence, and I think journalists are beginning to see that people want this reported on.”

“It is a very difficult and sensitive area in which those directly involved are often very reluctant to get interviewed, not to mention the more subtle forms of violence such as verbal assault, cyber stalking and financial control, which is an extremely difficult situation to hang a journalistic story on.”

The hidden nature of domestic violence makes it incredibly difficult for journalists to report on, and the violent nature of the relationships makes it even more dangerous for both the journalist and the victim.

Renowned Australian Journalist, William Birnbauer believes that there has already been a huge shift in the reporting of domestic violence, but the issue will never be an easy topic for journalists to tackle.

“The reporting of it [domestic violence] has increased markedly in the past couple of years, but it still has a long way to go,” he said.

“Police rarely hold press conferences or offer any particular assistance to reporters of those kinds of issues.”

“It may not be ideal at the moment, but it’s a very welcome development and far better than what was the case 30 or so years ago”

“Journalists today will cover the issue and extent of domestic violence, but when it comes to specific case studies or examples, I’m not so sure they’d be very extensive.”

“As we all know, it’s very difficult to identify these stories because the victims will hide the extent of the abuse, as they’re often afraid of what could happen if they came forward.”

Media Law Expert, Professor Mark Pearson could not understate the dangers facing journalists who want to break these stories, ranging from legal implications to threats of physical violence.

“Some topic areas require much more mindful reporting than others, there are various danger zones with regards to safety and legality when reporting on Domestic violence,” he said.

“When approaching a domestic violence, a journalist needs to be particularly cautious because they can face contempt charges or even be sued for defamation, for damaging somebodies character, because it’s a terrible accusation to have made against somebody.”

“There are dangers both to the reporter and the victims of domestic or family violence, there’s a threat of physical violence to both the reporter and the people they are reporting on.”

“This recently happened to a journalist student in Melbourne, the student was doing such a story, and the perpetrator of domestic violence came upon the student and ex partner and assaulted both of them.”

“Legally there are many things you can’t say in a domestic violence situation, there are ethically many things you can’t say because of the danger involved.”

For too long Australians have had their head in the sand when it comes to domestic violence, we cannot afford to continue to ignore this epidemic.

Before a shift in the cultural attitudes towards domestic violence can take place, the newsrooms of Australia need to face up to this epidemic and put at the forefront of our national conscience.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1800 787 3224.

In an emergency, please call 000.