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Media needs ethical bushfire coverage

  • 04 February 2020


Kangaroo Island is the kind of place you read about in books or maybe encounter in a TV series such as Seachange or Doc Martin. A tight-knit rural community, where the people are friendly, trusting and willing to chat. Life moves at a different pace here.

Three years ago I has the good fortune to spend a delightful few days there with my parents and son. I fell in love and couldn’t wait to be back. Late last year I booked us in again at the end of the school holidays.

But then the fires. There was no escaping the saturation coverage on the news and social media. Apocolyptic images of places I had been and loved. Lives lost, homes and farms burnt, animals suffering and communities shaken to their very core. Needless to say the pressure to cancel our plans was not insubstantial.

As the weeks wore on I decided that rather than cancel, I would monitor the situation and make a decision closer to the time. I felt that provided we weren’t placing ourselves in danger or getting in the way of recovery efforts I felt we should go. Love is 'for better or for worse'. I loved this place and did not want to abandon it in its time of suffering.

I monitored not only the media but also the advice of emergency services and spoke with some of the operators with whom we had booked and decided to go.

This trip was, by the very nature of what had recently transpired, very different to our last. Yes, we visited beautiful beaches, ate delicious fresh seafood and were greeted by kangaroos, wallabies and goannas as we went about our way, but this time was punctuated by a military presence, and accompanied by blackened remains of bush and buildings.

The trip also proved to be a unique opportunity to engage more meaningfully with locals, and as the director of a media organisation myself, reflect on the role and impact of media in covering natural disasters such as this, particularly given the strong reliance of digital and visual media.


'People thanked us for coming. But the thanks we received was different to the usual pleasantries associated with visiting a business. It was heartfelt. It was genuine. It was raw.'


During my stay, a desire to talk about what had happened and its impact was something I encountered many times. Everywhere we went small