Academic journal article Journalism History

Collective Silence: The Australian Press Reporting of Suffering during the World Wars

Academic journal article Journalism History

Collective Silence: The Australian Press Reporting of Suffering during the World Wars

Article excerpt

Australian war correspondent John Hetherington recalled seeing many of his colleagues during World War II "crack under the strain of trying to do their job in the desert and Crete. They were willing enough in heart but could not stay the distance."1 When Australian journalists could no longer function during World Wars I and II, their accreditation was withdrawn due to "ill-health," often a euphemism used for psychological trauma. Even the language employed by the journalists to describe violence and personal trauma sanitized and obscured the experiences and offered a clue to the journalistic culture. The lexicon was masculine, bold, and in some cases militarized. Until recently there has been a denial of the costs of war for journalists and photographers and an expectation in a competitive and frenetic industry that they should simply cope with trauma. Entrenched within the persona of the journalist was a degree of self-deception: the idea that someone can confront war and violence with impunity.

Using archives, diaries, letters, and the reportage, this article examines the attitudes surrounding the emotional consequences of reporting during World Wars I and II, the experiences of Australian journalists, the costs and appeal of war, and the punishing journalistic culture. In addition, it analyzes how the Australian journalists' own experiences directly influenced how they reported conflict. Was there a relationship between witnessing violence and their reporting, and how did they write about suffering when their own press culture negated it? The issue of psychological trauma was concealed and suppressed, so it is impossible to ascertain how many journalists in this era were affected. Consequently, their selfexpression and reportage is illuminating. This article argues that there was a tendency for Australian journalists to deny the impact of trauma suffered by soldiers and more particularly themselves not only because of censorship but also because their own profession perpetuated stereotypes of Australian masculinity and resilience. Even the suffering of civilians was mediated and reported at a critical distance.

Doug Underwood reminds us, journalists have long trafficked in the causes of trauma-accounts of war, loss, suicide, crime, and violence-as well as psychological profiling of aberration, bearing witness and recording personal testimony.2 As there is a wide scope for the term "trauma," the definition adopted for the purposes of this article is taken from Judith Herman's work, Trauma and Recovery, and the research conducted by Frank Ochberg, a pioneer in trauma studies who helped create the concept of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in 1980. Ochberg defines PTSD as reactions caused by an event that terrifies, horrifies, or renders one helpless. The triad of disabling responses are: recurring intrusive recollections; emotional numbing and constriction of life activity; and a physiological shift in the fear threshold, affecting sleep, concentration, and sense of security.'

Since the 1980s, and largely in response to the increased targeting and vulnerability of journalists, several organizations have emerged to provide assistance to the media. The Committee to Protect Journalists was created in 1981 to promote press freedom and the rights of journalists. The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma was developed in 1994 and is now based at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. It is a groundbreaking resource for journalists who cover violence and is dedicated to informed, innovative, and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict, and tragedy.4

This institutional attention is well deserved. By its very nature, foreign reporting has become more deadly and the occupational dangers associated with journalism are significant. In 2013, seventy journalists were killed. 2012 was the second-worst year on record for journalists, with seventy-four confirmed dead worldwide and more deaths being investigated. …

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