EDI­TOR CRE­ATES DE­BATE OVER LAW

The Bulletin - - Front Page - BY AMY CHENG

THE re­cent An­drew Olle Me­dia Lec­ture by

Aus­tralian Women’s Weekly edi­tor He­len McCabe has touched off a de­bate over the re­port­ing of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence in Aus­tralia.

Ms McCabe made the point that Rosie Batty, the mother of 11-year-old Luke who was bashed to death last year by his fa­ther at a Vic­to­rian cricket ground, might not be Aus­tralia of the Year if the killing had oc­curred in NSW.

The law in that state pro­hibits the nam­ing of de­ceased mi­nors, even if the child is the vic­tim. It is the only Aus­tralian state where this re­stric­tion ap­plies.

“If Luke Batty had died in NSW, we could not pub­lish his name or pho­to­graph. We could not name Rosie Batty,” Ms McCabe said in her speech. “All the im­por­tant work she has done over the past 12 months would have been done anony­mously or, as is more likely, wouldn’t have been done at all.”

Edi­tor-in-chief of The Age An­drew Holden be­lieves that laws should not pre­vent the me­dia from re­port­ing on do­mes­tic vi­o­lence cases. The Age, like other news­pa­pers at the time, pub­lished the story – even though there were still some le­gal is­sues.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Rosie Batty’s ac­tions, par­tic­u­larly her re­mark­able im­promptu press con­fer­ence the fol­low­ing day, changed this story com­pletely. It gave us per­mis­sion, if you like, to tell this story far more com­pre­hen­sively than we might have oth­er­wise.”

Mr Holden said, tech­ni­cally, The Age should not have pub­lished the Batty fam­ily de­tails at the time, as the Fam­ily Vi­o­lence Pro­tec­tion Act in Vic­to­ria pro­hibits pub­li­ca­tion of any par­tic­u­lars re­lat­ing to a Fam­ily Vi­o­lence In­ter­ven­tion Or­der. Pub­li­ca­tion of the ex­is­tence of an or­der is also pro­hib­ited.

A mag­is­trates’ court hear­ing was held two days af­ter Batty’s mur­der, in re­la­tion to the in­ter­ven­tion or­ders. In the end, the court ruled in favour of the pa­per, per­mit­ting pub- li­ca­tion of the ex­is­tence of the or­der, as well as pho­to­graphs of the par­ties.

“With a story such as this, news­rooms have to make judg­ments very quickly in terms of how much they pub­lish,” Mr Holden said.

“While I hope it’s never the case, if there were to be a Rosie Batty in NSW, with the same courage and open­ness, then I don’t think the laws in that state would stop the me­dia from do­ing the same as we did,” he said.

Aus­tralia’s Right to Know coali­tion has taken ini­tial steps to raise with the NSW govern­ment the is­sue of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of de­ceased mi­nors. It has made rec­om­men­da­tions to en­sure that the prin­ci­ple of open jus­tice is up­held, and pub­lic in­ter­est re­port­ing is not un­nec­es­sar­ily re­strained.

Mem­bers of the coali­tion in­clude News Corp Aus­tralia, Fair­fax Me­dia, APN News & Me­dia, The West Aus­tralian, and The News­pa­per Works.

Aus­tralian Press Coun­cil chair­man Pro­fes­sor David Weis­brot said the coun­cil was cur­rently de­vel­op­ing ways to im­prove the re­port­ing of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

“He­len’s com­ments echo some of the sen­ti­ment shared through­out our con­sul­ta­tions on this is­sue. There is a lot of com­plex law sur­round­ing re­port­ing about fam­i­lies and chil­dren, and much of it varies in de­tail from state to state,” he said.

The press coun­cil has not yet de­cided on the best ap­proach, but is con­sid­er­ing de­vel­op­ing a new spe­cific stan­dard for such re­port­ing, best prac­tice guide­lines, an ed­u­ca­tional pack­age for the in­dus­try, or a com­bi­na­tion of the three.

“We must en­sure a fair and equitable le­gal process for in­di­vid­u­als, but there is also a strong pub­lic in­ter­est in open jus­tice and in press free­dom. Done re­spon­si­bly, this can pro­vide a great deal of the con­text in paint­ing an ac­cu­rate pic­ture of fam­ily vi­o­lence in the com­mu­ni­ties across Aus­tralia,” Prof Weis­brot said.

He­len McCabe ar­rives for her An­drew Olle lec­ture. PHOTO: News Corp Aus­tralia

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