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Stephen JIGGINS AM

Year of Award: 2008 Award State: Australian Capital Territory Multimedia > General
The NRMA-A.C.T. Road Safety Trust Churchill Fellowship to study media guidelines for the reporting of road crashes by the news media - USA, Canada, U.K., France
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As noted by the World Health Organisation, although road traffic collisions kill more than 1.2 million people a year around the world, they are largely neglected as a health issue, perhaps because they are still viewed by many as events which are beyond our control. Yet the risks are known: speeding, alcohol, non-use of helmets, seat belts and other restraints, poor road design, poor enforcement of road safety regulations, unsafe vehicle design, and poor emergency health services (WHO 2004).

Australian news reports about road crashes, somewhat of a staple in terms of frequency, typically present crashes as ‘accidents’ with a human tragedy storyline which does little to educate the community about the issues and promote known safety measures. In the USA, Canada, Great Britain and France, road crashes generally do not meet reporting thresholds for news. They are so common they are not regarded as being sufficiently newsworthy to make it into the paper or news bulletin. The US is typical. Despite the fact that over 40,000 people are killed in road crashes each year, very few of these deaths are reported in the national news media.

Due to pressures in the newsroom to maintain audiences in a highly competitive environment, the capacity of newsrooms to research complex issues, and to provide context, is likely to get even worse. For road safety authorities these developments are of concern which requires a rethink about traditional approaches for dealing with the media and communicating with target audiences. Authorities need to understand the pressures faced by journalists and to work within these new realities. This may mean putting more effort into packaging information for consumption by the media and embracing new tools like FaceBook, YouTube and Twitter to communicate directly with target audiences – particularly young people.

As suggested by the results of study of television news in the US (Rosenstiel et, al. 2007) media professionals need to rethink the way they view audiences. Professor Labasse, from the National Centre for the Advancement of News Publishing in Lyon, argues that for effective communication to take place, audiences need to be made to care and to be encouraged to think about the issue. Currently, it could be said that too much emphasis goes into exhortations to “obey the road rules” rather than explaining to the public why the rules exist. We can do a lot better. The key is for those that are responsible for improving the safety of our road system to take more responsibility for conveying appropriate information to the public.

They also need to banish the word ‘accident’ from their lexicon.

Awards and Honours

  • 2014 awarded Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community of the Australian Capital Territory, particularly as an advocate for improved road safety.
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