Walkley award-winning journalist Caro Meldrum-Hanna talks about the role of the investigative reporter.
In a lecture to the Macleay journalism cohort, Meldrum-Hanna told students not to be intimidated in risky scenarios and “push through” to get to the truth in a story.
“It’s our task to go out there as reporters and to report and investigate without fear or favour,” she said.
“We can’t favour any side.”
The Four Corners reporter is well-known for her expose Making a Killing which aired in February of 2015 and won a Gold Walkley award.
The segment exposed the widespread use of illegal live-baiting of racing greyhounds across Australia and resulted in a special commission into the industry which subsequently led to a ban on the sport. Almost two years after the story aired, greyhound racing remains a controversial issue. Just two weeks ago, NSW Premier Mike Baird overturned the initial ban due to ongoing pressure from lobby groups and the NSW National Party, which is facing a bi-election in a seat where greyhound racing is a financial issue for many.
Meldrum-Hanna admitted that the time put into Making a Killing was long and exhausting. “The greyhound story was night and day,” she said.
“But that’s how you get the material, there’s no such thing as structured hours, you just don’t know.”
Despite receiving numerous awards for her work, Meldrum-Hanna told students that the prospect of changing Australian policy or triggering a royal commission is the last thing on her mind when she embarks on a long-form investigation.
In July this year, Meldrum-Hanna’s Four Corners investigation Australia’s Shame revealed footage of apparent abuse of adolescents in Northern Territory detention centres. The footage showed young males being strapped to mechanical chairs whilst hooded with historically controversial spit masks. Other footage showed the boys being tear-gassed in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin. The morning after the program aired, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a Royal Commission into the treatment of children and young persons detained in youth detention facilities.
“It’s not about awards or accolades or having huge results,” she said.
“It’s about letting people speak, it’s about telling their stories because it’s their story.”
Meldrum-Hanna spoke about how she coped with the harsh realities of reporting difficult stories, and stories which relied on people opening their lives to public scrutiny. She emphasised a journalist’s responsibility is to be respectful with a subjects “own truth”.
“I think as a journalist you really need to have compassion,” she said.
“I feel that’s important, you are dealing with people’s lives here and their characters, damaging things can happen after programs or stories.” – Jessica Best
Photo by Noel Fisher