Sure Let’s Talk About Suicide

My Nonno with his young family.

My Nonno with his young family.

This week I wrote about the media’s reporting of suicide. It also caused me to reflect on my own family’s experience with it. This was first published on mindshare.

I was 17 when my grandfather died. My mother told me it was a heart attack. It was only a few days later my Aunt mistakenly told me the truth.

She rang to leave a message for my mother, Nonno may not be allowed a Catholic funeral because of the way he died she told me. “What do you mean – the way he died?” I asked. “You know, his suicide,” she replied.

No I didn’t know that and it wasn’t until it was all over I asked my mother for the truth. While it was important to know it, I still kept telling people it was a heart attack.

It was like the shame my mother was protecting me from, I was now trying to protect everyone else from.

When I started working in the media some years later I wanted to do a radio documentary on teenage suicide. I sought the advice of psychologists who said it was a bad idea. They argued it would create copycat suicides.

Then as I learnt more about the media I realised the huge sensitivity behind talking about it. When we cover this subject we do so without any real knowledge of the state of mind of our audience. However over recent years we have all agreed that not talking about suicide is not helping the situation, in fact it could be making it worse.

Then in 2011 the Australian Press Council released guidelines on reporting suicide. After years of discussion it was finally official – we could talk about it. But not in a careless free for all but in a carefully considered manner that did not create more harm. So adhere to some golden rules – you never report how a person died and why.

Recently the media had to deal with two high profile suicides within in a month. The first was TV presenter and model Charlotte Dawson, the other was designer L’Wren Scott. Sadly, some news reports forgot the golden rules and detailed how these women committed suicide, speculating on reasons why.

In only three short years the media had became sloppy and reckless. It was as though the guidelines were never written. Sure we need to look at the who, what, why, when, where, and how. But not always, and especially not now.

When I saw this I became so disappointed. Why do Editors have to be so lackadaisical? Why do they think we need to know the details?

After my Nonno died I wanted to talk about it. I wanted to be openly angry, sad, nostalgic. I wanted to ask questions and search for answers. Instead for years I had to be quiet.

While we don’t have to be quiet any more, we do still need to be careful.

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Declaring Your Vote

Annette Elliott & myself before polling day.

Annette Elliott & myself before polling day.

As journalists we are taught to be apolitical however it does not take long to work out who sits on the left, right or somewhere in between. While impartiality is what is supposed to make us ‘professional’ sometimes it makes me feel like we are inhumane.

In the lead up to the recent South Australian election my company took on a pro-bono project for Annette Elliott and the No Domestic Violence Coalition. We made a series of short viral videos based on the actual stories of women and children who have survived abuse in the home.

Wanting to do more I offered my hand to give them some media advice and used my social networks to raise their profile. But as a journalist that is where it had to end. I felt because I had associated myself so closely with the campaign I could not write a feature about domestic violence policies and each of the parties.

This caused me a real dilemma. Firstly, I have written about family violence in the past so to compare policies would not seem out of place. But because my name had been associated with a political candidate who ran on this agenda suddenly I felt I could not do this.

Yet journalists are forever editorialising their opinions on anything and everything. This is how the status of journalist has migrated to celebrity for some. And the rise of the editorial has influenced straight news to the point it has become had to see stories as objective anymore.

While I know for my own integrity and ethics I did the right thing but I do regret my decision. No one in the media covering the election tackled the issue of family violence. When the Liberal party released a policy on tougher penalties to prevent street violence no one questioned what policies are stopping domestic violence. Even though according to The Advertiser, “Opposition Leader Steven Marshall said late-night violence and public safety was a key issue ahead of the state election.”

With our newsrooms being dominated by men it is hard to get the stories and issues that primarily impact on women on the front page. Sometimes I think only female journalists can change this, and if that means by working in both politics and media, then perhaps that is what it must take.

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Some Things Take Time

The Clipsal 500 where glamour girls promote anything and everything.

The Clipsal 500 where glamour girls promote anything and everything.

The one thing I like about being a freelance journalist is that I pitch stories I want to write. I don’t wait at my desk for an editorial team to tell me what story I have to write.

While that sounds empowering it also means a lot of rejection. Rejection comes with its own pain but having stories rejected that you not only want to tell but feel must be told is the hardest.

Two years ago I learnt of the YWCA Women’s Safety Survey. Knowing from personal experience the change to the East End landscape during the ‘mad march’ weekends I really wanted to tell the story of how it impacted on women’s safety. So I pitched it to a publication I was regularly writing for at the time.

On the day the paper went to print I got a call from the Editor saying they would not run it. He said my statistics were out of date, imploring the reason they were old was because that is all we had. The ABS women’s safety survey was taken in 2006.

Accurate data on the violence against women is hard to come by and is unclear. Last year Anne Summers made the same point at an International Women’s Day breakfast I attended and in opinion pieces.

Whether the fact that SAPOL had called said Editor to raise concerns about my article impacted on his decision remains unclear.

It was pulled.

This year the YWCA conducted its survey again to find out if there has been any change in five years. InDaily covered this and the fact there is a problem with data required to substantiate claims of harassment. As you can see they copped a bit of flack for that. And then we saw something rarely seen in the media – an Editor justifying his position for the choices he made.

Clearly this subject would not go away and here was a chance for me to try and tell the story – again. However this time I would not only follow the survey but go inside the Clipsal 500 and observe the impact on women myself.

I will not lie, it was not easy. Seeing women objectified to promote everything from discounted petrol to Autism awareness was sole destroying. But it made me more determine to tell the other side of what goes on at the Clipsal 500.

Sure not everyone liked it and if they did I would not be doing my job.

I was told after the story went live it overloaded the server. I would love to say it was my great journalism that did that, but I fear it was the title and picture used for the story.

To be honest, I don’t care it made people stop and look. Even if it was to check whether I caught them on camera at the beachware parade or taking flyers from strippers.

The story was told.

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It’s That Time Again

SA Votes

Just when we get over one election up pops another. South Australia will be going to the polls in a month’s time and it’s time for the media to gear up again. At least locally.

Last week I attended my first candidate event hosted by Adelaide’s YWCA. Called She Votes it was a chance for female voters to press the flesh with politicians before we give them our precious no. 1. While it was a low-key affair, during an election politicians can’t pass up any opportunity to sell their party or position on key issues. That’s certainly why I was there.

Candidates were well versed in issues facing women; workplace inequality, access to childcare, violence against women, lack of services.

And as the room lets out a collective sigh we are all left asking; what are you going to do about it?

Well sadly no real policies were presented on the night for us to take away and think about their answers. Perhaps that’s not what the politicians felt was expected of them or maybe that’s not what this event was about.

However I really struggle with talking about problems and not presenting a solution. Especially when it comes to women’s issues that have been dogging us all for far too long.

Right then, what did I learn from these candidates?

Our state opposition thinks a 1 to 6 female to male ratio in our shadow cabinet is a good thing, despite women being 51% of the population.

A part-time Death Review Panel is better than no Death Review Panel.

If you’re an African refugee, female and disabled you have the trifecta of discrimination.

Women’s services are not immune to cuts and never will be.

And the one institution where you can fight for your rights, in the courts and through the law, doesn’t respect women.

It’s 120 years since women won the vote here in SA and some things just have not changed.

So Ladies, make sure it counts this time round.

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Violence is Violence

This image was taken by Christopher Houghton & was part of an exhibition on domestic violence.

This image was taken by Christopher Houghton & was part of an exhibition on domestic violence.

Statistics. Journalists love a good set of statistics, especially when they serve a point of view you’re trying to get across.

So here’s some;

In September 2013 quarterly update for the New South Wales Recorded Crime Statistics non-domestic violence was down by 3.8% and domestic violence stable.

However in light of a very public campaign against what the media once called King Hits (then Coward’s Punch and now just One Punch’s) the New South Wales government introduced new penalties for this type of crime.

Yet there is another high profile story on violence that also created a media frenzy – that of Simon Gittany murdering his girlfriend Lisa Harnum in 2011. In November last year Gittany was found guilty. At his sentencing a victim impact statement was read out from Harnum’s mother. In it she said her daughter had died in “a senseless and thoughtless act of violence.”

She went on to say that what happened to her daughter should be a wake up call to all young women.

So now I ask where is the NSW government’s reforms on domestic violence?

Changing the assault laws all came from intense media attention on one young man being hit by a single punch in Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve. Lisa Harnum also has intense media attention, in fact it is still going in her case.

Now let’s go back to those statistics.

Nearly one in six women (16%) have experienced violence by a current or previous partner in their lifetime.

One woman is killed every week in Australia by a current or former partner.

Yet somehow these statistics and the high profile nature of Lisa Harnum’s case has not spurred the New South Wales government or any government to action.

And despite a court ruling where the judge condemned Gittany for the litany of lies he used to get out of his actions, Sunday Night are paying for an interview with his current girlfriend proclaiming his innocence.

Gitttany’s behaviour of monitoring and stalking Harnum is clearly that of an abuser. He did not feel at ease with her out of his sight. He wanted to make sure he could control every aspect of her and her life. And he did, so when she decided she wanted to leave, he snapped.

Simple really, so where is the outcry?

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Feeling UnAustralian

th_unAustralian2

Is it possible to not want to celebrate Australia Day?

Like any news hungry journalist, I read my daily news stories before I even get out of bed. It has developed in to a bad habit. Before even saying good morning to my loved ones I am tweeting to the world the stories I think should dictate the day’s discussions.

On Australia Day the first article I tweeted was about the health gap in our indigenous communities.

Now I’m not indigenous and would not even want to come close to saying I can relate to how they would feel about Australia Day. Especially when Sunday was a day I was reminded how my migrant white privilege has seen me live a moderate middle class life with fairly much less grief than others in my community.

In fact so privileged is my life I spent Australia Day in my parent’s beach house down the beautiful and moderately wealthy south coast of South Australia.

I have little to complain about.

Yet on Sunday when I should be thankful for the choice my father and my mother’s family made to come here from Italy I should be proud to be Australian. If they did not I may not even be here, I’d be living with far less in a peasant town in the south of Italy.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t because today I live in a country that treats those wanting a better life for their families with contempt and would rather see them locked up than embraced by our community.

I couldn’t because whenever I see our flag I think of all those who will drape themselves in it and sprout xenophobic hate.

I couldn’t because I acknowledge that in the founding of this country we have sacrificed our indigenous community.

I couldn’t because no matter how much they strive to embrace our multicultural community we are never part of the white Australia.

I couldn’t because to really benefit from the wealth of this country, you must be wealthy. If live below the poverty line or in circumstances outside the nuclear family you will be seen as a burden on this society.

I couldn’t because as a woman the statistics of violence and gender inequality remain against me.

I couldn’t because no matter how much I try to teach my son that we must treat those in this world equal, we vote for governments who remind us we are not.

So maybe I am unAustralian but this Australia Day I really did feel there was little to celebrate.

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Will we ever stop stalking Julia Gillard?

stalking of julia gillard

If there is anything that can divide a conversation between love and hate it has to be politics. Or in this case politicians. For Christmas I was given journalist Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book The Stalking of Julia Gillard; How the media and Team Rudd brought down the Prime Minister.

Known as KA, the author has worked in politics and reported it since 1978. Her book is a blow-by-blow account of how Team Rudd manipulated the media to work against the Prime Minister to forward the reinstating of ‘One K.Rudd’.

As history has shown, from 2010 to 2013 we saw some of the most woeful periods of political reporting. Without substance or qualification the Canberra press gallery fed off the internal narcissism of Team Rudd on a daily basis until finally they won.

Honestly as a reader and journalist I found this a sad time and found the book a comprehensive read about the complacency of our press gallery. It wrote in black and white the lies and manipulation of disgruntled Labor MPs led by the most aggrieved, Kevin Rudd.

Admittedly the continuous manipulation of the media by Team Rudd did begin to feel like Groundhog Day and I found myself half way through the book struggling to get through. But I was glad I did, there were moments I went ‘a-ha so that’s what really happened’ and appreciated the work that went in to connecting the dots for me.

However for me what was missing was more detail on how the Opposition Liberal National Party contributed to events. Their own manipulation of the media to cruise through this period un-scrutinised was only really mentioned in the Epilogue. Not a fan of Team Rudd I could have done with more of that throughout the book to keep me engaged.

In fact some of the real gems of criticism were found in the Epilogue. Like this observation; “The press gallery can be a beast that feeds on itself. Apart from attending the occasional press conference, Question Time or ministerial interview, gallery journalists are shackled to their desks. Their company is each other; their sounding boards are each other; their judgements about the political angle for the day are formed out of exchanges with each other.”

I have witnessed this pack mentality first hand with court reporting. It is dangerous and disingenuous. It deprives the public of diverse views and more so facts that are triple checked and sound.

Towards the end of my reading this book the YWCA in Adelaide released a report by the University of Adelaide. It that showed young women were less likely to enter politics on the basis of the media’s treatment of Julia Gillard. While this may be the case it was the comments section accompanying the online articles about this that brought out the haters. Instead of acknowledging this may be true it instead fueled people’s loathsome opinions of Gillard. Hijacking this very valid research lies at the heart of why women in politics will continue to suffer for many years to come.

So I will leave the last (long) word to the YWCA Adelaide who wrote this on Facebook.

“We always welcome a range of opinions. Stimulating debate is how the world changes. We are all for that. It does appear though there is also confusion about the purpose and topic of the survey. It is not about whether Julia Gillard was a good politician or not. It is about whether the way she was treated by the media has impacted on the political and other leadership aspirations of women. This survey finds that it has. The YWCA runs an annual survey called SHE Speaks and for two years running (which involved thousands of girls and young women) Julia Gillard was nominated as the woman most admired for her achievement of becoming the first female PM in Australia. So we have that data which does show she was respected and admired by many and did act as a role model. There is ample evidence which shows females and males in leadership are treated differently – by the media, by potential employers, by employees, by the general community etc. There is also ample evidence which shows the social and economic benefits of women in leadership: in politics, business, community etc. Our job is to support women in to leadership so we are deeply interested in the barriers they face, how to overcome those barriers, and how to challenge and change structures to support women’s leadership. It is simply false to say that female and male PM’s in Australia are treated the same. When you can provide the evidence that any media commentator anywhere in this country has called for the death of a male PM (see chaff bag), your argument will hold up.”

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Freedom For Some

Morrison & Abbott

Careful what we say or ask.

A journalist’s greatest asset is the facts. Deprive them of that and you are stopping them from doing their job. Who better knows this better than another journalist.

One of the greatest stunts launched by Tony Abbott during the election campaign saw him standing in front of a billboard counting the number of asylum seekers reaching our shores. Not only was it a great visual device it turned all asylum seekers in to a number, and a nuisance.

And then when he won government that billboard and any up to date data on boat arrivals came to an abrupt end.

Now we have tightly controlled press conferences once a week where any pertinent question on the matter is hidden behind the answer of ‘operational matters’. The farce this has created has seen our government argument go from arguing ‘we want to stop deaths at sea’, to ‘we’re being invaded’, to ‘we are at full-blown war’.

I feel for all the journalists who must sit in that press conference week after week and be treated with contempt for just doing their job. They are just asking the questions all Australians want answered. Yet what is more frustrating is having a transcriber who can’t hear the questions only the short succinct answers of the Minister.

When Oliver Laughland from The Guardian posted this on Twitter I realised we are heading in to very dangerous and dark territory. His and David Marr’s questions are scrubbed from the public register as being inaudible.

Asking hard questions and keeping a government accountable is a journalist’s job. What makes this whole situation untenable is when Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s office releases statements that claim our boat arrivals are at their lowest in three years.

Now how do we really know that when the offices for Immigration or Customs are not allowed to answer journalist’s questions or verify the figures?

Suddenly we are supposed to take the word of a department and government that is stifling information?

Sorry where are we Russia or Australia?

So now is the time to pause and reflect on what Mr Abbott said in an article prior to the election published in The Australian. It was aptly called Tony Abbott to Champion Freedom of Speech. In it he said:

“Any suggestion you can have free speech as long as it doesn’t hurt people’s feelings is ridiculous. If we are going to be a robust democracy, if we are going to be a strong civil society, if we are going to maintain that great spirit of inquiry, which is the spark that has made our civilisation so strong, then we’ve got to allow people to say things that are unsayable in polite company.

“We’ve got to allow people to think things that are unthinkable in polite company and take their chances in open debate.”

Now he was talking about speech that discriminates and talks about race. But what I found quite profound was what the article went on to say.

Mr Abbott’s link between speech and thought is the pivotal point. This goes to the heart of the progressive agenda that he opposes – by limiting what people can say, the purpose is to limit what people think, hence the idea of “thought crime”.

Well Mr Abbott and Mr Morrison I think you have just both been found guilty.

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2013 In A Nutshell

Counting down the days and reflecting.

Counting down the days and reflecting.

Well it’s that time of the year again when news outlets across the land start compiling their reflective montages of 2013. And what a year it has been. We’ve had three Prime Ministers, watched feminism take a battering, lost many great leaders and actors, and had Mother Nature remind us once again who is really in charge.

So just like every other journalist here are my reflections on 2013. Some are universal, some personal. Whichever they are, it’s a mix of high points, and low points.

1. The Online Expansion

This year the Guardian came to town and it stayed. Launching online it started with a bang partnering with the ABC to reveal Australia’s spying on Indonesia in its first six months. This coup saw a diplomatic fall out our new government could never have imagined. The Guardian brought integrity, a strong brand and poached some of Australia’s finest journalists. It set the bar high by launching with an award winning online documentary. Here’s hoping they keep it up in 2014.

2.

  • Too Hot to Handle

This year I learnt what happens when you play too close to the fire. You get burnt. After spending months researching and writing a story on the impact of Mad March on women’s safety in the city of Adelaide I was dumped when I got too close to the truth. Being dumped did not bother me, it was finding out a colleague visiting from interstate was assaulted by a Clipsal 500 fan the next day. The lesson I learnt – a good story does not always makes you friends.

3. Drunk on Politics

Just like any decent drinking session, things are said and done which you later regret. On reflection I am sure that is how some in the press gallery may be feeling right now. Looking for sound bites and digestible quotes they got them in spades from the Liberal National Party. And as for controversy and back stabbing, well the Labor Party dished that out. Then all the while when then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was trolled and stalked, now Prime Minister Tony Abbott went unscrutinised. How has that worked out for them? Well if the master of the Gallery Laurie Oakes is not happy you know something is definitely not right.

4. Publicity 101

When I look back on my year I see a diverse slate of work. Most notably was in October when I wore my Producer and Journalist hat at the same time and became a Publicist. Two different films but the same sell – actors. One was a group of known actors, the other a group of disabled actors. I loved them both however I learnt very quickly, no matter how talented or gifted you may be. Sex will always sell.

5. Business and Pleasure

2013 blessed me with some amazing travel. I got to go to Canada as a documentary producer and saw some great films. I was also commissioned by Fleurieu Living to go to Kangaroo Island more than once. Both of these opportunities nurtured the storyteller in me. I met new people and experienced different lives. Reminding me stories are universal and I am blessed with the gift of telling them.

Thanks to all those who have trusted me with their stories this year. Whether in print, online or film, it was a privilege and an honour.  Now it is time for a well-earned break and to prepare for an outstanding 2014.

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Same Same But Different

online news

Online news is the future, but how adaptable are we?

I love online news. For me it is the future of journalism. While I don’t mind flicking through (or even writing for) the odd magazine or newspaper, online is where I can bring all my skills from previous lives together.

Online I can podcast and relive my radio days. I can make video clips in documentary or news. Or I can just write.

A few weeks ago a new online news service emerged – The New Daily. Run by former The Age and The Herald Sun editor Bruce Guthrie it is free content that promises to deliver quality journalism.

Always excited to have a new paper on the block – and a new potential employer – I was a bit surprised to see its content is still reliant on traditional copy and pictures. Sure there is some video, but it is streamed from the ABC. It made me think, “you can take the man out of the newspaper, but you can’t take the newspaper out of the man.”

Some online sites can just afford to be copy and photographs, I know, I write for some of them and their rates are low. But then there are others that have sputtering of video content or the odd podcast. Whenever I see this I think audio and video are the after thoughts to online content.

This does not have to be the case. With smart phones and tablets providing ample of apps to help journalists record, cut and upload their material I don’t see why media rich content is not at the forefront of online storytelling for news.

Clearly we are in a transition. Newspapers are downsizing and journalists who were brought up with ink stains on their fingers are adapting to a new format. I am sure if we took a survey of the work experience of the online journalists now writing for these sites we would see a majority began on a newspaper.

Of course the skills they developed in those environments are crucial to delivering quality journalism online. However they have put the blinkers on to some degree. When all you write is copy, all you can see is copy.

While the skills developed on a newspaper ensure quality journalism continues, we need to be careful we are not narrowing the field on the formats we can deliver.

I would love to know how many journalists from radio and television newsrooms are working online. And if they are, are they creating podcasts and video clips every day?

Being able to write good copy is key to being a successful journalist. But if you are going to work online you need more than words to captivate your audience.

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