The Black Saturday bushfires: How the media covered Australia's worst peace-time disaster

Mass media News media Australia Victoria
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The February 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria was Australia's worst peace-time disaster that left 173 people dead, more than 414 injured, over 1700 homes destroyed and an estimated 7000 people homeless.

Coverage of Black Saturday was extensive and in many ways comprehensive. The journalists, photographers and television crews involved in the coverage faced major challenges in doing their work and were deeply affected by what they witnessed. They were faced with ethical questions, logistical problems and fundamental questions about how to cover a natural disaster so close to home.

The Centre has undertaken a significant research project aimed at exploring the experience of journalists, editors and news directors reporting on the Black Saturday fires. The goal of the research was to  allow those involved in covering the fires to reflect on their experiences, the quality of the coverage, the pressures they faced, and any lessons they learned for future coverage of major disasters.

The research findings were launched at a conference on November 19 involving representatives from media organisations and key emergency services involved in the Black Saturday bushfires. The launch was followed by a panel discussion with 5 journalists from a range of media reflecting on their experience of the bushfire coverage. To conclude the conference, Gary Hughes (journalist and bushfire survivor) and Jon Faine (ABC) commented from their own unique perspectives in relation to Black Saturday. The event was supported by a grant from the Bushfire Recovery Initiative.

Some recent media reports about the conference and our research study include:

Ian Munro, "Study finds media have no rules for disasters (84)", the Age, 19 November 2009.

Margaret Simons, "Journalists Adrift: The Reporting of Black Saturday" and "Humans First, Journalist Second. The Journalism of Black Saturday",, 19 November 2009.

Cameron Stewart, "Untold stories of Victoria's bushfire disaster", the Australian, 23 November 2009.



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