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UC to lead research project analysing the media’s role in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Newsroom team

20 December 2018: Newcastle Herald journalist, Joanne McCarthy, campaigned relentlessly for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse.

Joanne won a Walkley Award for her work, spanning seven years, in which she wrote 350 articles about the sexual abuse of children, primarily focused on Catholic clergy in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley. Her campaign played a role in pressuring the Federal Government to establish the Royal Commission.

The Loud Fence campaign in Ballarat effectively used Facebook as a voice for victims and survivors of child sexual abuse before, during and after the Royal Commission.

These are just two examples of media activism to be analysed during a three-year project, led by the University of Canberra Professor Kerry McCallum, after securing a grant of $284,000 from the Australian Research Council.

Professor McCallum’s research team includes investigators from Deakin University, the University of NSW and the University of Oslo, with UC being the lead institution. The grant also funds a PhD student to work on the project.

The aim of the project is to look at how traditional media, journalism and social media advocates campaigned for the Commission to happen, and then once it was up and running, the role played by the media in a changing media landscape.

The project will focus on the nexus between media and commissions of inquiry in the digital era.

In the case of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, social media played a significant role in providing the victims a voice.

There was also the crowd-funded program launched on Facebook by Loud Fence, which resulted in funds being secured to send victims to Rome to campaign for victims’ rights.

Professor McCallum says the research project will look at how the Royal Commission dealt with the media, with open coverage of proceedings as an indication that the Commission was keen to engage.

Another aspect to be investigated is the way in which stories played out during the Commission, and how activist groups harnessed social media and changed the course of the Commission.

Some voices were heard more loudly in news coverage of the Royal Commission, with some institutions, such as the Catholic Church, gaining much greater media attention.  

When comparing commissions of inquiry into child sexual abuse as conducted in other parts of the world, it would appear the Australian model, and its openness with the media, is regarded by many as the benchmark. It will be interesting to see if it is determined that the role of so called ‘advocacy media’, which came to fore during the Australian Royal Commission, can be as successfully utilised elsewhere.