The Word Can Change Society

AMEP exists to engage and encourage journalists to use their craft to improve Australia’s social environment: to be a more just and compassionate society. Yesterday, a number of AMEP associates had an opportunity to engage with Chris Johnston, a senior Fairfax journalist. This event is part of our “Hope Talks” series, “Youth Suicide and the Social Environment.”

Recently, Chris and a colleague Mex Cooper, after four months work on the story, broke new ground in reporting a cluster of youth suicides in the City of Casey. Thanks to Chris and Mex, the taboo of talking about young people dying by suicide may be broken. No longer, will the code “no suspicious circumstances” hide the tragedy of young people dying before they should.

You can read Chris’ article at The Last Taboo

Yesterday, we learned from a journalist who was willing to put his experience to work, and push boundaries that could change the world of journalism, and society in general. I think everyone was moved through sharing some time with Chris who, with his colleague Mex, may have changed our society through the astute and wise use of the printed word.

At the outset, Chris commented that “suicide is higher than the road toll.” This surprised me and I wanted to check it out. Thanks to Spinney Press I found some facts which you can check out at

“In spite of increased community awareness of youth suicide through the national suicide prevention strategy, suicide continues to be a major public health issue and social concern. The numbers of suicides in Australia have decreased in recent years following peaks in 1997-1998, however despite the decreases; suicide remains a major cause of death, and is greater than the number of deaths from transport accidents. Youth suicide is a particularly complex and sensitive issue, and its effects are devastating for entire communities, especially the family and friends of the victims.”

But Chris also opened up my understanding of the confusing and demanding media guidelines under which journalists operate in Australia, to report on death by suicide. Until the World Health Organisation released guidelines in the late 90s, little guidance existed. From 2001, The Australian Press Council in collaboration with Mindframe and others has offered formal guidelines to media organisations. This has gradually improved. But the mass of information, research reports, and ethical considerations is huge, and must be daunting for journalists reporting on suicide and mental health, generally.

The issue of ‘the spiritual’ was asked in a question to Chris Johnston.

When I reviewed some of the available resources I got no hint of this aspect being considered in government “youth suicide prevention” policy. Certainly no hint of a Judeo-Christian ethical framework being considered! Or, any other faith! In a poignant disclosure of certain information held by Chris, he told us of a pact by boys to die by suicide, signing off in notes or online posts to each other: ”See you on the other side”, showing a clear sign of spirituality.

I hope the acclamation at the end of our conversation with Chris, was also an expression of our encouragement to journalists to use the printed word to make a difference. We need journalists and others in the media, who recognising the integrity of situations, use their experience to push the boundaries and tell the truth in a just and compassionate way. But it must also be said that excellent journalism can only be done through the collaboration with passionate and intelligent people involved in situations on the ground.

I’ve heard professionals like Michael Carr-Gregg say that young people display deep levels of spirituality. If this is so, why is there an apparent disconnect between the reality of these young lives, and deaths, and the intellectual rigour behind policy development and implementation? Is it possible that government policy in Australia, no matter how well-intentioned, misses a critical link in redeeming the space for all young people to live life in all its abundance?

Perhaps, this is the challenge for people like me. And, you!

Bob Simpson

The Australian Media Engagement Project Inc (AMEP)

About Bob Simpson

Bob is project manager of The Australian Media Engagement Project (AMEP). He believes that ethical and independent journalists are vital to the continuing freedom of Australian citizens. You could argue that In recent decades media organisations have subtly subverted journalism to their own private commercial interests, and away from an integrated sense of fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australian society, especially for the disempowered. AMEP aims to change general media narratives towards greater fairness, well being and shared prosperity in Australia.
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