ABC deaths put journalism in perspective


Paul Lockyer, Gary Ticehurst, John BeanIt is a commonplace that death puts things into perspective. But the reason why it is commonplace is that we experience its truth again and again. So it was with the deaths of the ABC journalist Paul Lockyer, photographer John Bean and pilot Gary Ticehurst in a helicopter crash near Lake Eyre. Their deaths put journalism into perspective.

The image of journalism that has dominated the news in the last month has been one of grubbiness. Phone hacking, cover-ups, the collusion of police, politicians and media executives have jostled for attention with the habitual sins of tendentious reporting and pontifical commentating. Together they have plunged journalists even further down the most-admired profession scale.

Lockyer's death reminds us how much we are indebted to ordinary, decent and self-effacing journalists. I never knew him, but his name and voice have been a constant presence on the ABC, telling stories, describing situations and landscape, explaining what we might have missed.

I did not learn from his reporting what his political views were, who his friends were or what interesting experiences he might have had in his life. He was the servant of his craft — uncovering aspects of Australian reality for interested readers.

Neither did I meet John Bean, never heard his name nor heard his voice, but I realised after his death that many of the photographs have defined aspects of Australia for me. I was even less connected with Gary Ticehurst, but his death reminded me yet again how much what we know of our nation depends on people who fetch and carry and never leave a byline to recognise them by.

Their deaths also remind us of the risks that journalists take in pursuing their craft. To tell their stories, journalists are drawn to places isolated from civilisation. Sometimes the isolation is physical, taking journalists to places where travel always involves some risk. At other times the isolation is from civil society, whose risks took journalists like the Balibo Five and Neil Davis to their deaths.

In many nations the isolation is from any moral universe, working in a society where powerful people make it their business to suppress knowledge of reality and those who come to hold such knowledge.

The death of ordinary people doing necessary work in a decent way turns around the questions we usually ask about journalism. When confronted by the corruption of something good, we usually ask how we can stop the corruption. When touched by the death of someone good, we will do better to ask how we can encourage what they were doing.

How can we encourage journalists who are good at their job, keep themselves out of their stories, are aware of their own prejudices, and struggle for objectivity in the way they present reality to us?

Encouragement comes from friends and a decent culture. News organisations are not simply businesses or faceless bodies, but are composed of people linked in their working relationships with one another. For the ABC the death of Lockyer, Bean and Ticehurst is more than the loss of business resources and skills. It is the loss of friends and companions. We feel with them in their loss.

And finally these deaths remind us of how important the ABC is as a home for journalists. It is important that they find it a home where they are encouraged to avoid the moral gutters of celebrity hounding and of exposing the powerless, and are encouraged to give their time to more expansive stories. For all its faults, the ABC has been such a home.

It is important that it continue to be so and not a branch office that distributes the work of others. Ensuring that this is so will be its proper tribute to Lockyer and those who died with him. 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Paul Lockyer, ABC, journalism



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Existing comments

I could not agree more. When journalist Morgan Mellish died in plane crash in Indonesia it was observed that in many respects he was serving Australia just as the official Public Servants who were also killed. These professionals must be acutely aware of the dangers, yet they face them every day to bring back these stories.
Paul | 22 August 2011

The deaths of these fine men have affected me deeply, for all the reasons you have outlined, Andrew. The ABC is indeed a home for journalists. And they model true collegiality - even stepping respectfully into one another's shoes when required, but never to upstage or compete, working together to ensure reporting and programs that bring out the best in the rest of us: whether our search for truth and understanding,for information, for beauty, for entertainment. I share your plea that these men continue to be honoured in the kind of ABC for which they lived.
vivien williams | 22 August 2011

Thank you. A moving and deserved tribute.
Caroline Storm | 22 August 2011

I mourn for the family and friends of the three ABC employees killed doing their jobs but do so in the same way I mourn for those who die driving a taxi or a truck ,on a mine site or any where else.

I cannot see how this tragedy suddenly makes Andrew's second last para justifiable or in context .The ABC has to go as a parasite on taxpayers even if its people are , on the whole , good people .The people who harvest opium in Afganastan are also good family people whose death's i would mourne but that does not justify their industry
john crew | 22 August 2011

Wonderful, Andrew, well said and entirely on the spot. We must continue to support the ABC for all the reasons mentioned above. They have mentored and shared their knowledge with many others over the years and we will remember.
rhonda | 22 August 2011

I fully agree. Real journalists and reporters move well above the dirt digging pimps and privacy thieves. These tree men worked long hours in heat, dust, flies, rain and danger to give us news and information. If we are looking for Australians of the Year, I am sure we should look no further.
Beat Odermatt | 22 August 2011

Thank you Andrew for a considered and balanced tribute to three men who made different but important contributions to reporting around Australia.Some form of memorial is worthy for Paul Lockyer who clearly set high standards in the journalistic ranks of the ABC
Leonard Tuohy | 22 August 2011

Thank you for these well expressed remarks about Paul Lockyer, Gary Ticehurst and John Bean: they certainly exemplified what is best in the ABC. I knew all three, especially Paul. The thought has been expressed many times in recent days: "Why is it always the good?" Probably it is because those most dedicated to their craft are inevitably attracted to each other -- they want to work together, they want to search new horizons together. This will always be true, and a place like the ABC can enable it to happen -- for great good and, at a time like this, great sadness. An admirer, who gave his name only as "JIm", left a wonderful poem in tribute to the three, on the ABC website. I quote just one stanza:

Can't say goodbye it's a selfish thing
Because of secret places
When the radios out of city reach
I will see their faces.
Walter Hamilton | 22 August 2011

Thank you Andrew for your reminder of how important good journalism is for a society. I am currently in the United States and I am quite astounded and appalled at the poor quality of both newspaper and television news coverage and reporting. There is no quality "World" news that is covered and TV reporting is akin to entertainment rather than insight. Without information how can anyone make quality judgements or be openned to different ways of thinking? I tell my friends over here that if they want to work for justice, work for better quality independent journalism.

Mary Coloe | 22 August 2011

Andrew. Like Mary Coloe, I have also spent time in the USA and listened to the entertainment which goes for major news reports and analysis. Our journalists and skilled staff who report for he ABC are greatly appreciated and we must preserve our heritage of integrity provided by the ABC and its staff.
Brian F Kennedy | 22 August 2011

A wonderful article. Please submit it to The Age, SMH or Australian so that other can also enjoy and appreciate your article. I am just back from the most incredible journey down the Diamentina, Warburton, Cooper and over Lake Eyre -- a trip which was inspired by Paul's magnificent programme on the filling of Lake Eyre last year. He was a man with a great Australian soul as had John in his ability to capture nature at its most wondrous. How wonderful to learn of such a team dedicated to producing the best; they were obviously such great mates as well.
Trish Burns | 23 August 2011

A good tribute Andrew as was your namesake Walter Hamilton's tribute on the ABC Radio National 'Correspondent's Report' on Sunday morning. I especially liked Walter's focus on Paul Lockyer's career as an on the ground reporter and his thoughts for Lockyer's wife and two sons. I believe that the coverage of such tragedies by media such as 'Eureka Street' and 'Radio National' is more objective than the popular mainstream media, which tends to focus on the national celebrity peronality. This mainstream media includes the ABC local radio 774, ABC1 and 24 TV, where people were overly sentimental and self centred.

We should treat this tragic accident in perspective; it was nothing more than an accident caused by bad weather. Deaths of other journalists were quite different. Neil Davis's death was caused by being caught in crossfire in a civil war, which from memory was in Thailand. The death of the five jounalists in 1975 in Balibo, East Timor was murder.
Mark Doyle | 23 August 2011


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