Serious about tackling DV? Let's call time on sick, sensational headlines

Serious about tackling domestic violence? Let’s call time on sick, sensational headlines

Herald Sun

The Herald Sun is no stranger to sensationalist, click-bait headlines.

Where political or entertainment scandals and argy bargy is concerned, I’m really not fazed. But when media outlets start employing this same tactic to report on violence against women, it’s disgraceful.

Over the weekend, a headline emerged splashed across the front page of the newspaper viewed by 400,000 Australians each day. It read: “After 137-day search for ‘murdered’ woman Kelly Zhang, police believe… MUM FOUND IN TIP”.

This was the tabloid paper’s so called report on the sickening and senseless murder of a beloved woman and mother. A blown up image of Zhang accompanied the headline as well as a photo of the horrifying crime scene.

The callousness is breathtaking.

How any editor reviewed this piece, the headline and its layout and felt comfortable releasing it to the public, is beyond me. It shows how far some publishers will go to make a buck. It’s clear that zero consideration for Zhang’s grieving family and loved ones was given.

But it also shows how far we need to come in our fight against family and domestic violence if we’re ever to eradicate it for good.

When mainstream media continues to report on murder in an utterly cold and detached way, the Australian public consumes it as such. Comprehending and feeling the full gravity of this crisis is an integral part of us making sure our action plan and approach is right.

So, how do we get this message across?

Media outlets like the Herald Sun revert back to these egregious practices because they know the product will sell when they do. As humans, we’re drawn to sensationalism. We seek out stories that trigger emotion but at the same time we become more desensitised to the reality of this crisis, the more we consume news in this way.

While many Australians expressed anger and anguish at the Herald Sun for reporting Zhang’s murder in this manner, there were thousands of others who would have felt more inclined to read the story because of the way it was dished up to us.

But when we see headlines like this we need to ask ourselves: “How would I feel if this was my mum, my sister, my wife, my friend, my daughter?” We need to remember that this was a real woman whose life was brutally stripped away from her and her family. Yes, we should be able to understand this without framing it in a personal context, but if that’s what it takes to change people’s habits, then so be it.

When we see headlines like this, we need to fight with everything we have not to give into the click. A cheap moment of ghoulish fascination will serve a disastrous purpose. It will enable publishers like The Herald Sun to continue reporting in this way. It will validate their model.

And we also need to see our government cracking down on media when it seeks to manipulate the public in this way.

Scott Morrison and his Women’s Taskforce have talked a lot about measures to eliminate violence against women. They’ve vowed to tackle a crisis which at present sees one woman murdered a week in Australia.

Cracking down on the media which seeks to exploit these tragedies would go a long way to proving they’re serious.

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