The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) developed a program to prepare journalists and crews for covering traumatic events. According to the ABC (2007),
The ABC’s Trauma Awareness Program was developed in collaboration with the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma. The ABC program takes a three-tier approach: peer support group training, manager awareness and staff awareness. The training sessions begin with a powerful documentary made by ABC News in which ABC journalists and production staff talk about their experiences of covering traumatic events.
Mike Walter was a part of this program. He said, “So what the ABC has created is a program where they have journalists outside of ABC who have gone through traumatic events, where you can call them day or night. And I was on that call list where somebody, wherever they're at, they could call me up and talk to me. It would never get back to the bosses, and they would talk to somebody who's gone through something, who can talk to him about you know, self-care, what are you doing for yourself and you know, who are you talking to, you got to talk about this. And so I think it's a really, really unique program.”
I spoke to Heather Forbes, who started this program for the ABC back in 2006. “I said, well, I've kind of noticed that we've got a number of walking wounded in the newsroom,” she said. “Some of them were return foreign correspondents, but some of them had been court reporters.” She added, “Peer support is the way to go.” Forbes thought it was important to train peer supporters to help other journalists. “They're not a psychologist. They're not in any way replacing a professionally trained mental health therapist,” she said. “They can often solve the problem for the person. In other words, they'll point out that you're actually suffering from trauma. You know, this is what it is. Because a lot of people don't realize that that's what they're actually suffering from. Because in your daily day-to-day life, as a journalist, you go every day.” As far as getting journalists to sign up to be mentors, she said it was quite easy. “I just sent out an email saying, listen, I'm running this program. Are you interested? And honestly, it was easy. They just came pouring in. They came pouring in because I think they thought at last, we've got something for us. And it's by us, for us. And I keep stressing that they, they were the key to the success of the program.” Forbes explained that the peer supporter had to understand when in fact a journalist needed to be referred to someone for professional help though. Then she worked on finding psychologists who were able to understand the trauma that journalists go through. This goes back to what the Dart Center is currently working on with their Journalist Trauma Support Network which is training psychologists to work with journalists. When I asked Forbes why we didn’t have a similar peer support program in the United States, she said, “I'm not sure why they haven't been able to set one up in the States. I suspect that most media organizations are very resistant. What it takes is a good court case. We've had two in Australia in the last three years.” According to The Law Reporter (2019),
The former journalist — known only as YZ — was awarded $180,000 in damages for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a legal world first, the court found the newspaper was responsible for her PTSD because it failed to provide a safe workplace.
The ruling could have far-reaching implications for newsrooms, and force them to consider what duty of care they owe employees when it comes to traumatic events and mental health.