The media and the vulnerable in 2012


Jacintha Saldanha

As I was looking for a lens through which I could frame a 2012 retrospective editorial, a colleague asked me to recommend a good article on the topic 'the media and the vulnerable'. Looking at our archive, I discovered this was a constant throughout the year.

Still current is the fallout of actions of 2DAY FM employees who appeared to have prompted the death of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who was vulnerable to suicide. Also recent is the criticism that, while the media were empowering church sexual abuse victims by telling their stories, the victims and their stories were providing fodder for one of the year's biggest media events, so that media outlets were in effect capitalising on lives broken by the church. Earlier the BBC was exposed for suppressing coverage of the exploitative behaviour of one of its own, Jimmy Savile.

Back in January, we were reflecting on the film The Iron Lady, and Meryl Streep's determination not to make a plaything of Margaret Thatcher. Instead she would continue her own lifelong effort as an actor to 'defend the humanity of people that we've made into emblematic figures of one sort or another'. 

Also in January, we used Pope Benedict XVI's idea of a communications 'eco-system' to mute the shrill 'Stop the boats!' political rhetoric in order to allow space for a hearing of the hope and fears of both asylum seekers and the Australian people. The Pope had urged a balance between silence, words, images and sounds, which is more likely to give voice to the poor than cacophonic social and mass media. 

Another comment observed that the iconoclastic tone of much TV comedy 'lacks the values and moral centre needed to counter xenophobia' exists in the community. The same could be said for violent video games, but there was also the view that they are easily demonised when proper funding for mental health services is also needed. Another form of media was threatening to exploit vulnerable people — online gaming and betting apps.

In March, and again in November, Sydney University's St John's College was in the news, and the media made a meal of accounts of students having to submit to humiliating rituals to gain the acceptance of student elders. 

In May we used the term 'Big Media' to suggest that large media corporations are just like 'Big Tobacco' in their relentless exploitation of captive small people for the end of shareholder profit, but that the National Broadband Network might provide diversity if the government followed recommendations from its Convergence Review rather than the wishes of the large media owners, as successive governments have for many years.

Some things never change, but we live in hope that they will, and that we will all live in a better world as a result. That is our hope for 2013.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, media, 2DAYFM, vulnerable, poor, Jacintha Saldanha



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Existing comments

Beware Michael, of washing all media and their journalists with the same scathing paint. You do those who genuinely wish to give the vulnerable a voice a great disservice by so doing.

Jennifer Herrick | 17 December 2012  

Imagine if our church media - newspapers like The Catholic Weekly and Catholic Herald etc - performed the same old-fashioned role that newspapers once did (and some still do) in our local communities. Independent and free from proprietorial influence, they would have nipped any sex abuse scandal in the bud long ago. Advertisers, rather than bishops would cover costs to produce the newspaper - not because of any disloyalty or political agenda - simply because people trust the journalists' stories and are being given a true picture of church life.

AURELIUS | 17 December 2012  

In the Australian context, the media are synonymous to News Ltd. This aberration can be traced to Paul Keating's watch. The politically corrosive influence that News Ltd has over the voting populace is such that it has retarded Australia's growth into the 21st century. As a relatively young nation, ours is deeply entrenched in the bottomless chasm of conservatism. The general population's view on climate change and asylum seekers is just one example. Regrettably, Mullins' observation is accurate, notwithstanding the one or two journalists " who wish to give the vulnerable a voice" ( Herrick). for every one of those, there are others (some talented and some are not) who either remain silent or are happy to be employed by the likes of News Ltd.

Alex Njoo | 18 December 2012  

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