Liability of media companies for mental harm suffered by journalists reporting on traumatic events

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In a widely reported decision of February 2019, Judge O’Neill of the County Court of Victoria awarded $180,000 damages to a journalist of The Age newspaper. The plaintiff, anonymously referred to as ‘YZ’ in the judgment, had been working at the paper as a crime reporter between 2003 and 2009, and subsequently as a court reporter from 2010 to 2013. She successfully established that she had suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (‘PTSD’) as a result of prolonged and repeated exposure to crime scenes and criminal trials in the absence of an adequate system which her employer should have had in place ‘to enable her to deal with the trauma of the work’. According to reports, this was the first time a journalist has been able to recover for this type of loss, not only in Australian courts, but around the world. On 19 December 2019 the Court of Appeal of Victoria comprising Niall, Forrest and Emerton JJA, while partially allowing the appeal, substantially upheld the first instance decision. Indeed, their Honours found no errors of law in the reasoning of Judge O’Neill, which they simply clarified where needed, and only partially overturned the scope of his initial finding. The case thus warrants attention because of its novelty and the weight carried by a decision of a state’s highest court – which finally provides a remedy for a type of professional hazard that journalists have been drawing attention to for quite some time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)48-59
JournalMedia and Arts Law Review
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020


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