The Herald Sun’s Take A Stand campaign against domestic violence has been hailed as “nothing short of extraordinary,” after the Victorian government last month pledged to jail domestic abusers and make intervention orders more readily available.
The paper’s campaign began in July 2013 after editors noticed more and more stories of women who had been killed and injured by their partners, and that police statistics appeared to show a leap in police being called to family violence incidents.
“Our goal was to kickstart a community debate about family violence which for decades had been considered a topic too hard for the community to confront,” Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston told The Newspaper Works.
“I believe we have succeeded in this aim.”
The thrust of Take A Stand is that men need to accept responsibility for their actions, and that it’s their job to make change. Political journalist Ellen Whinnett is the campaign’s lead reporter.
The paper’s opening statement included messages from police commissioner Ken Lay, then-Premier Denis Napthine, AFL chief Andrew Demetriou and lord mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle, who stood together in a striking front page photograph.
Current Premier Daniel Andrews, who made an election commitment to establish a royal commission into family violence, is reportedly open to making sweeping changes to the state’s domestic violence laws.
“We have also succeeded in making it a bipartisan issue with both Liberal and Labor premiers in Victoria committing to moral leadership, better funding for services and legal changes,” editor Mr Johnston said.
Rohan Wenn, who manages communications with domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty, told The Newspaper Works that Take A Stand has been “nothing short of extraordinary.”
“For the first time I can remember, people are giving this issue the attention it deserves,” Mr Wenn said.
“It has been sensitive to victims and their families, but tough on those who are currently failing victims.”
The Nationals’ federal MP for Gippsland, Darren Chester, has written for the paper on a domestic violence incident he witnessed at an airport, and has also had regular input into the debate. He used to be a journalist, and said the Herald Sun campaign proved times have changed dramatically in the media’s treatment of domestic violence.
“Police would say, ‘[there have been] just a few domestics,’ and you would just not cover them,” Mr Chester said of his time as a reporter.
“But … violence that occurred in a public bar, or in someone’s loungeroom, is still violence, and I think the media has an important role to provide the important facts,” he said.
“I think the Herald Sun has led the way in Victoria in explaining to the world why domestic violence is an issue, and putting a face to the campaign.
“It’s a difficult thing for a media organisation to do by itself, but if they can go the distance, if they can sustain the effort, that’s what will shift the mindset among some in the community that consider this sort of violence acceptable.”
He said newspaper campaigns had an ability to provide running context for issues that would otherwise drop in and out of the modern media storm.
“This won’t be an issue which will suit the 24-hour news cycle, this will take us a long time to deal with, and I think the media’s got a critical role in maintaining the rage,” Mr Chester said.
As for the future, Herald Sun editor Damon Johnston said the paper would keep up the pressure on men to shape up.
“There is no more important a human right than that of women and children to live in violence-free homes,” Mr Johnston said.
For Rohan Wenn, the newspaper provides a model the rest of the press should emulate.
“If we could get other newspapers across the country to follow the Herald Sun’s lead, we would go a long way to finding a solution to this crisis.”
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