The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

‘The Port Arthur massacre haunts Australia.’

It is almost twenty-two years since the Port Arthur Massacre. Martin Bryant continues to serve his 35 life sentences plus 1,035 years without parole in Hobart’s Risdon Prison. Some books have been written about the massacre and about Martin Bryant as if, somehow, words can be assembled to explain what happened and why. Other books seem to have been written to try to tap into the desire of some of us for as much information as we can get, accurate or not. In this way we apparently become knowledgeable, we become voyeurs and instant experts. And then there’s this book. Ms Voumard has written about the role of journalism surrounding the massacre.

I was looking for discussion of some of the ethical considerations which (should) come into play when journalists descend on traumatic scenes. I was looking for some recognition that sometimes the public’s desire for information should be secondary to the respectful treatment of human beings caught up in traumatic events. I was looking for acknowledgment that people are separate from events. While this book provided some of what I was looking for, reading it took me in another direction.

Ms Voumard looks at ‘Born or Bred?’, a book written by Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro (published in 2009) about Martin Bryant and his mother Carleen Bryant. Carleen Bryant sued over the use of her personal manuscript in this book. She received an undisclosed settlement. So, what happened? While Carleen Bryant showed her manuscript to the authors, when she engaged them to write her version of events, Ms Voumard writes:

‘But there came a point at which Wainwright and Totaro must have decided to write the story they wanted to write, as opposed to the one Carleen wanted to have written .’

Okay. If Mr Wainwright and Ms Totaro were unable (for whatever reason) to write the story Ms Bryant wanted written, should they have used any aspect of her manuscript? What were the undertakings given to Ms Bryant? As I continued reading, I thought about quality of journalism, about how the desire for a 30 second ‘grab’ seems to have become far more important than the quality of what might be contained in that 30 second ‘grab’. I thought about the role of journalists in checking the facts, about the motives of those who want their side of a story told, about those of us who want to read such stories. And I thought about the victims of this massacre: the 35 people murdered, the 23 people injured, the large number of others who were traumatised by what they saw or experienced, and their families and friends.

I finished this book wanting more discussion about the conflicting roles of the media in reporting such traumatic events. For me Ms Voumard’s book is a starting point, not a conclusion.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2018

3 thoughts on “The Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard

  1. This one kind of missed the mark for me as well – it didn’t quite do what it said on the ‘label’!
    I was interested in Voumard’s reflections around legal wins but moral losses and had hoped that that idea would be fleshed out but again, it just fell a little short.

    Like

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