Published by the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra

Research and Stories through a Gendered Lens

The curious case of The Age, murdered women and a jigsaw puzzle

Oct 15, 2020 | News, Feature

The other week former journalists from The Age started receiving a rather bizarre advertisement via their Facebook feeds.

The product being sold was a jigsaw puzzle of an Age front page – seemingly innocuous. Until you noticed the precise page that had been singled out for “promotion”. It carried the headline “This Must Stop” and featured pictures and stories of four women, including Eurydice Dixon and Jill Meagher, who had been murdered in Melbourne.

To be clear, the jigsaw is not an Age product per se. It’s new bosses have outsourced the newspaper’s product marketing activities to an outside company.

And, equally, there was clear legitimacy in the article and the dramatic headline at the time, if only to wake us up to the appalling statistics on women and violence, and women being the subject of murderous rage – most often by erstwhile partners.

Nevertheless, the casual callousness in commodifying such a story for the purposes of a revenue-raising product was deeply unfortunate, at the very least.

There are literally endless other days that could have been used for the product promotion, but this one was chosen – seemingly without second thought.

And herein lies its worrying reality as a cultural artifact.

Jane Gilmore’s pioneering book Fixed It introduced us in painful detail to the woeful depiction of women victims by our media.

Fixed It argues that the media is guilty in perpetuating the misrepresentation of victims as blameable for their own suffering or death. Even if the stories themselves lay out the facts of male violence and approach the situation conscientiously, the headlines are designed to bait readers.

“Language matters because it’s how we give shape to ideas and perspectives,” Gilmore says. “If we use language that minimises men’s violence against women, or we use language that implicitly blames the victim, then we’re not understanding the problem. We can’t change a problem that we don’t understand.”

Thousands of women took to the streets following the murder of Jill Meagher.

Even more disturbing, Gilmore also highlights how difficult it is to be a woman journalist covering crime.

“One of the things that’s important to know is that the rates of bullying and harassment is higher in the media than in the police,” she says.

“The report (Mates over Merit: The Women in Media Report, 2016) showed 48% of female journalists had experienced bullying, harassment and intimidation in the workplace. The problem with both is that they’re male dominated, quite conservative industries that celebrate the stoic, strong cliche of a male leader.”

But back to the jigsaw.

Clearly, it’s a result of some marketing deal done by publishers with a product manufacturer.

Still, The Age has a reputation (or a ‘brand’ in modern marketing parlance) and as they say about reputations, they are hard to make and easy to destroy.

In the 1980s I worked with the South Australian Attorney-General, Chris Sumner as he introduced the first Victims of Crime legislation in the nation. This legislation not only provided compensation, it also created provisions for the confiscation of the profits of crime and allowed victims to give a victim impact statement at sentencing.

Naturally, such reforms were strongly contested by the legal fraternity. But today they are a vital and necessary part of our criminal justice system.

And they were crucial to sensitising us all to the trauma of crime.

Anyone who has worked with a family that has been subjected to the murder of a loved one knows that the ‘impact’ never ends.

So it is incumbent, particularly if we have positions of power and media profile, to think wisely about the consequences of what we may do that can affect victims and families of victims of crime.

If the jigsaw puzzle selection was intended as “clickbait” that is bad enough. But if not, that is even worse as it represents a wanton callousness to victims, and women murder victims in particular.

The newly appointed editor of The Age, Gay Alcorn, has been approached for her thoughts on this rather unusual and tasteless case of marketing, but as of time of print has yet to respond.

So all of us must, particularly if we have positions of power and media profile, think wisely about the consequences of what we do that can affect victims and families of victims of crime.

 

 

 

 

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