Medea News narratives: the ‘bad’ mothers
Nicola Goc
The University of Tasmania.

This paper will analyse the British press’s 2007 coverage of the disappearance of three-year-old English girl Madeleine McCann and draw parallels with two other cases: the disappearance of baby Azaria Chamberlain in the Australian outback in the 1980s, and the disappearance and discovery of the body of six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey in the family home in Boulder, Colorado, in 1996. Across three continents and three decades media narratives were created which placed innocent mothers within what I call a Medea news frame that allowed for the creation of maternal blaming news discourses. Euripides transformed Medea of ancient Greek legend into the archetypal ‘bad’ mother in 430 BC when he placed a dagger in her hand and had her murder her children in a fit of jealous rage. In modern times Medea symbolises women who step outside of what is considered acceptable maternal behaviour. In this study Kate McCann, Patsy Ramsey and Lindy Chamberlain (now Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton) were all mothers who were quickly framed as Medeas, as murdering mothers, despite the lack of evidence, because their children disappeared while they were under their care. Compounding their guilt was the fact that these mothers, under the glare of the media, did not respond to the sudden unexplained disappearance of their children in a way that society deemed acceptable. Kate McCann and Lindy Chamberlain were condemned for being ‘too hard’ because they controlled their emotions in public and refused to cry; Patsy Ramsey was condemned because of her overt displays of emotion. These women were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t by a media and public eagre to blame the mother. By comparing news texts across 30 years I will expose a disturbing pattern in the creation of news that begs the question: Why are journalists, and we as a society, compelled to continue creating binary oppositional frameworks of good and bad mothers as a way of understanding the sudden and mysterious disappearance of young children from their ‘homes’?

Exploring the use of adventure narrative technique in recent newspaper coverage of the ‘lost divers’
Janine Little
Deakin University

A selective sample of recent newspaper stories about scuba divers ‘lost at sea’ anchors this paper’s exploration of cross-disciplinary research techniques in the study of narrative and storytelling in journalism.  A case study of the Brisbane Courier-Mail’s coverage of the Allyson Dalton and Richard Neely rescue from the waters of far North Queensland in May, 2008, is a key focus.  Reference also will be made to the narrative structures that link this story to other ‘lost diver’ tales. Applying methods from narrative and cultural theories, and drawing upon some elements of postcolonial literary theory, the paper identifies ways in which journalism’s contemporary stories and their narrative structures reaffirm and replay some familiar themes of adventure, mystery, and danger.  It shows how media representations of the ‘Other’ work to reproduce dominant assumptions about Australia’s physical and cultural being, in play as part of a colonialist discourse, as they also revive discussions of the role of ‘chequebook journalism’.

The currency of the affair: does the ‘Aussie battler’ narrative have a place in today’s television current affairs?
Renee Barnes
RMIT University, Melbourne

Mass media and in particular television play a crucial role in forming and maintaining national identity. In Australia, current affairs programs have tended to represent the cornerstone of national free-to-air television broadcasting, widely viewed as serving a vital democratic, political and social function. But television current affairs has been affected by a tabloidisation agenda in which a ‘softer version’ of current affairs is produced – driven by ratings and privileging those stories with good visuals.  This version of current affairs has replaced the traditional analysis of ‘issues of the day’, with a focus on the ordinary and in particular an individual’s domestic life. By undertaking a content analysis of Today Tonight and The 7.30 Report in the week leading to Australia Day in 2008, this paper will explore the types of national identity portrayed in these programs.  Further, it will investigate the impact of the tabloidisation or popularisation of current affairs programs has had on the types of national identity portrayed. And finally this paper will ask: do the discourses of nationalism and national identity represented within a tabloid or populist framework create renewed focus on particular national character representations?
Keith and Wilf Traitors to Journalism?: A cultural historiographical approach to explain why this may not matter.
Josie Vine
RMIT University

The following paper tests the theoretical and methodological framework of, what it terms, cultural historiography, against the narratives surrounding two of, until recently, Australian journalism’s most heroic figures: Keith Murdoch and Wilfred Burchett. Using a formulation of the methodologies of renowned historian, RG Collingwood and the theories of cultural scholars, Raymond Williams and Stuart Hall, the theory of cultural historiography is designed to explore how narratives can construct cultural traditions, and how these then can become embedded in a particular culture’s norms and practices. In this case, we use the narratives surrounding Murdoch and Burchett, to explore how they may have constructed an Australian journalism tradition, and whether elements of this tradition have become embedded within Australian journalism’s cultural norms and practices.    Murdoch and Burchett are highly relevant as figures for examination. Murdoch is considered as part of the Anzac legend for his revelations of the British military’s incompetence before and during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign, while Burchett is most famous for his reportage from a devastated Hiroshima in 1945, and for his writing from behind ‘enemy’ lines during the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. The Australian journalism culture has, until recently, tended to celebrate each one’s narrative for its anti-authoritarianism, non-conformity and, above all, dedication to journalism.  But recently Murdoch and Burchett, each on separate occasions, have been condemned for conducting themselves, not as models of journalistic behaviour, but as traitorous, self-interested political players. The accusations are serious: One claims Burchett was nothing but a communist ideologue, and may have even engaged in the antithesis of Australian journalism consciousness; torture and forced confessions from political prisoners. The charges against Murdoch are almost as disturbing. He is accused of being motivated by politics, ultimately functioning as nothing more than a mere puppet for the Hughes’ government. However, using the formulated theory of cultural historiography, the following paper poses questions about how this ‘reality’ may not matter in terms of the contribution the Murdoch and Burchett narratives have made to the cultural construction of the normative norms and practices we today associate with Australian journalism work culture.


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