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“Killers are often reported in the media as good blokes or good husbands or otherwise good men who just snapped,” says Tarang Chawla, Our Watch ambassador and well-known campaigner for prevention of violence against women.
“But good men do not murder their wives, their girlfriends or their partners, and it’s important that the media doesn’t give time to this view.”
The way media reports incidents of violence against women has a significant impact on community perceptions, as well as on the family of the victim.
Our Watch, the national organisation to prevent violence against women, has recently released guidelines that they believe should underpin this reporting. Apart from English, these media reporting guidelines have been released in 14 different languages, including two prominent Indian languages - Punjabi and Hindi.
Tarang Chawla is one of the advocates helping promote these guidelines, in order to demonstrate the impact that media reporting has on families who have lost their loved one to intimate partner violence.
'One woman a week is killed by her current or former partner, boyfriend or husband. This year, the statistics have worsened and one woman has been killed every six days.'
“My sister Nikita was murdered in January 2015 aged 23, and so much of the reporting focused on the cultural ethnicity of my sister and the cultural ethnicity of the killer, who was also a man of Punjabi origin from India,” he told SBS Punjabi.
“By doing that, what the media is not doing is talking about a man taking the life of a woman close to him, and that’s the ultimate betrayal and breach of trust – which is what the media really should have focused on.”
He said statistics around family violence in Australia clearly indicate it is a “national tragedy and a national crisis”.
“One woman a week is killed by her current or former partner, boyfriend or husband. This year, the statistics have worsened and one woman has been killed every six days,” he said.
“Journalists are looking for a reason when they write about these tragedies and their reporting should focus on gender inequality and other factors that cause violence, rather than focus on the fact that the perpetrator was from India or Africa or another country.”
He cited his own experience when his sister was murdered by her partner.
“The reporting focused on culture and ethnicity which had very little to do with the fact that ultimately, the murder was the decision of one man to take the life of his female partner.”
He says he believes that although things have changed for the better over the past four years and people’s understanding of the forms of family violence has improved, a lot more still needs to be done, as evidenced by the reporting surrounding the murder of Dr Preethi Reddy earlier this year.
“When I saw Dr Preethi Reddy’s murder described as ‘suitcase murder’ in the media, I felt the same things that I had felt at the time of my sister’s murder. It wasn’t a suitcase that was murdered, it was a woman and her name was Dr Preethi Reddy.”
“By using that headline, her death was dehumanised,” Tarang Chawla adds.
Additionally, he rues the fact that some of the reporting again focused on ethnicity and Indian cultural practices, which he believes “muddies the waters and ignores the main issues at play.”
“I saw some headlines along the lines that the killer was feeling pressured to commit to an arranged marriage. Media should not sensationalise aspects of Indian or other cultures to make a headline.”
“We know the facts of the case – a man took the life of Dr Preethi Reddy, then took his own life. These are the facts that should be reported. But when we start looking at other factors like extended families or arranged marriage, we create an ‘us’ and ‘them’. We look at mainstream Australian culture as ‘us’ and create a ‘them’.”
'We all have good men in our lives. But good men don’t murder their wives, their girlfriends or their partners, and it is important that the media doesn’t give time to the view that the killer was otherwise a good bloke.'
Mr Chawla also spoke passionately about focusing on the victim, rather than the perpetrator.
“I demand that journalists write about the human stories – Dr Preethi Reddy was a vibrant young woman with a flourishing career and with family networks around Australia. Rather than sensationalising the issue and writing about the killer, journalists should have focused on her life,” he said.
“We all have good men in our lives. But good men don’t murder their wives, their girlfriends or their partners, and it is important that the media doesn’t give time to the view that the killer was otherwise a good bloke.
“People close to the perpetrators are also trying to make sense of a cruel and heinous crime and may sometimes say things like the killer was ‘otherwise good’. But we can’t look at killers as ‘good’ and media shouldn’t give this any airtime,” he said.
“The sad reality is that more women from our community will die this year, and when that happens, I hope that journalists will report according to these guidelines.”
Our Watch has recently released media reporting guidelines in Victoria, which will form the basis of national guidelines to be released soon.
Other languages published include Arabic, Cantonese, Dari, Hindi, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Malay, Mandarin, Pashto, Punjabi, Sinhalese, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Click here to read the guidelines.
If you or someone you know is impacted by rape, sexual assault, domestic or family violence call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.
If you are experiencing stress, call Lifeline at 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636
It's believed that one in three Australian women will be a victim of family violence at some time in their lives. It's a complex and distressing issue cutting across social and ethnic groups. However, several horrific cases in the Australian Indian community have been widely reported in recent months, raising questions about the prevalence of domestic violence in the Indian community specifically.