Is 'Victoria's disgrace' slipping off the media's agenda?

By Loni Cooper
Fri 9 September 10:27 AEST
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This article contains reference to family violence and violence against women.

Six months on from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, is the issue still a priority for the Victorian media?

One of the fears of the domestic violence sector was that once the Royal Commission was over, the media would regard the problem as ‘solved’ and move on. Uncovered has found some evidence that this might be happening.

Research by Uncovered has found a significant decline in the number of stories related to family violence and violence against women published by the Victorian print media in the past year.

The amount of family violence coverage in the Victorian media skyrocketed in 2015, following the death of Luke Batty and his mother Rosie’s appointment as Australian of the Year.

In July and August of that year, The Age and The Herald Sun printed 160 stories mentioning the terms ‘domestic violence’, ‘family violence’, ‘intimate partner violence’ or ‘violence against women’.

But across the same period in 2016, Victoria’s major dailies published just 108 stories featuring the same terms, signifying a drop of 32 per cent.

The Herald Sun and the Age's coverage of family violence year on year.
Victorian major dailies' coverage of family violence, comparing July and August 2015 with July and August 2016.

The greatest decline amongst the two papers was seen in The Herald Sun, which was campaigning on this issue long before the rest of the media began to take it seriously, launching the Take a Stand campaign in mid 2013 – when Luke Batty was still alive and well.

In the 2015 period, it published 76 stories that mentioned the issue. But over the past two months, stories on the subject numbered just 43, a decline of 43 per cent. In July and August 2015, The Age ran 84 stories, which dropped to 62 in the same two months this year – a drop of 26 per cent.

The Herald Sun's coverage in July and August 2015, compared with July and August 2016.
The Herald Sun's coverage in July and August 2015, compared with July and August 2016.
The Age's coverage in July and August 2015, compared with July and August 2016.
The Age's coverage in July and August 2015, compared with July and August 2016.

The Age is outranking The Herald Sun on this issue, despite not having made an explicit decision to campaign.

So does the media have a short attention span? Was the attention to family violence merely a passing fashion?

The Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its findings in March this year, and the Victorian government committed to fund all of its recommendations shortly afterwards.

Family violence workers believe the drop in media coverage of family violence may be associated.  Maureen Smith, the Family Violence Regional Integration Coordinator for Melbourne’s metro west region, said sector workers in her area have been contacted less frequently for comment since the Royal Commission findings.

“That’s where I’ve seen a really large reduction,” she said.

‘Speaking Out’ is a survivor advocates program run by Womens Health East. In the last two months, the program has received only one fifth of the media enquiries it was fielding at the time the Royal Commission findings were tabled.

“There was a lot of buzz around that, but now that everyone’s just getting on and doing it, it seems like this issue is not quite as interesting,” coordinator Kate Gibson said.

In recent years, The Herald Sun has been touted as a leader in changing the nature and volume of the media’s coverage of family violence. The ‘Take a Stand’ campaign launched in July 2013, calling domestic violence ‘Victoria’s hidden disgrace’. However, the campaign appears to be in decline. Uncovered has found only four stories published as part of it this year. And whereas senior reporter Ellen Whinnett spearheaded the campaign, now there is no dedicated family violence reporter – although it does form part of the responsibilities of the social affairs reporter.

The Herald Sun's 'Take a Stand' front page in July 2013.
The Herald Sun's 'Take a Stand' front page in July 2013.

Deputy Editor Chris Tinkler said the ‘Take A Stand’ campaign remains “absolutely in effect” and the paper is committed to continue its reporting on the issue.

“While not every article carries the campaign ‘dinkus’, every story we run in this space builds on the work of our ground-breaking campaign,” he said.

“We will continue to run many hard news leads, as well as strident opinion pieces and editorials highlighting the importance of and challenges in tackling violence against women.”

The Age was also questioned about its drop in family violence coverage but did not respond before deadline.

Read our questions to The Herald Sun and their full response here .