The horrific murder of Hannah Clarke and her kids stunned the nation; so what are we going to do about it?

The murder of Brisbane women Hannah Clarke and her three children by her estranged husband has cast a pall of grief over the nation.

Coupled with the grief is an anguished question that women are tired of asking:

How many more women and children must die at the hands of a violent husband or male partner before there is a concerted move to stamp out male violence in the home?

The nation was stunned by the horror and brutality of this calculated act of murder, when on Wednesday morning a murderous coward set fire to his family – Hannah, 31, and their children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3 – as they sat in their car in the Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill.

Hannah, still ablaze, made it out of her car and according to reported accounts yelled at horrified neighbours who had begun to gather that “he’s poured petrol on me” and that her “babies” were still in the car. The flames prevented neighbours from reaching the children.

We know from Friday’s heartbreaking interview with Hannah’s parents and brother on Nine’s A Current Affair that at the scene of the ambush Hannah, with burns to 90% of her body, gave police a detailed account of what had occurred. We simply cannot comprehend the strength of will and body to make such a statement in the throes of death, but it gives us a measure of the woman.

Hannah lived to understand the horror that had been inflicted on her children by her estranged and abusive husband and she made sure that he was held to account. Hannah died later in hospital.

At some point, at the scene of the carnage, the murderous husband and father killed himself with a knife, a craven release from having to face the devastation he had wrought upon his family.

These are the bare facts as we know them; a coroner’s report will in time record the precise details of that awful morning.

But in the meantime, we do know one thing for sure: a man, unable to accept that his marriage was over, incensed that his wife and three children had fled the family home and sought sanctuary at the nearby home of her parents, responded with murder.

Living in state of constant siege

Hannah left the family home late last year. We know that her husband was possessive, abusive and controlling. Brisbane police have confirmed that there was a history of domestic violence and that a restraining order had been issued to prevent her husband from approaching her.

It beggars belief that in 2020, there are still men who believe that they are entitled to demand the inviolability of a relationship – unless they choose to end it – which of course is another way of expressing their entitlement to possess a woman, and by extension, to control a woman.

For many women this manifests itself as unrelenting, unremitting, incessant violence, both physical and mental.

Somehow men seem unable to imagine what it must be like for a woman to live in a state of constant siege in her own home. If they could there might be more sympathy for women who plead for an end to domestic violence.

When tragedies such as the deliberate incineration of Hannah and her children occur the cry goes up: “It’s not all men”.

The problem may not be all men, but make no mistake: men are the problem. Men and their attitudes. Men who still see women as inferior and inconsequential, of ornamental value but not to be taken seriously, as subservient to their manly needs; as partners they are seen as chattels.

For women, expressions of these male attitudes are manifest in almost every facet of their lives: in the workplace, in social settings, in public places and at home. Women are abused, molested, assaulted, raped or murdered by men based simply on the fact that they are women.

Is it any wonder women demand change? Or more to the point, is it any wonder that women are fed up with having to demand change?

But how is such change to be affected? Hannah’s killer was 42 years old. He was the beneficiary of a more enlightened education system; he was exposed to the many and various campaigns seeking a fair go for women; he would have read media stories and watched films that presented women in a modern light.

We have barely moved the dial

Women know that the message is not getting through. It didn’t take the death of Hannah and her children to know that. This was just the latest instance of an estranged husband and father murdering his children or his entire family. Most of us can probably bring several instances to mind.

So what can be done? Attitudes need to change, but as a society we have barely moved the dial, and what appears to be change for the better is more often than not lip service.

There is still a body of people, male and female, who believe men are the head of the household and that women, by their actions or lack of deference, incite violence upon themselves.

Many people still look at domestic violence as none of their business. In fact, it is everyone’s business. It goes against the grain of modern living, but it may well be that we must become our neighbour’s keeper and our community’s guardian, because it is obvious that a less connected society provides too many blind spots in which bad things happen.

Again and again the education system has clearly been found wanting. How many more videos of boys and young men from elite private schools chanting sexist and misogynistic songs in public do we need to see to understand that not even a privileged education is changing attitudes?

Apologists for the status quo argue that it’s not up to schools to change social attitudes, that these are matters for the home. This is a bogus argument. Schools have always incorporated values, civics and a basic moral schema. The proposition that promoting gender equality is “social engineering” is the kind of obstinacy that enables social dysfunction. If society is failing women – and it plainly is – then surely it is not unreasonable to expect primary and high schools to do their part.

A thorough examination of how the legal system and law enforcement is failing women – if necessary a royal commission – is crucial. It says everything we need to know about the current conservative climate in Australia that instead of such a review what we have is the Morrison government appointing Pauline Hanson to conduct a review of family law. Hanson has openly stated that her agenda is to expose how family law unfairly advantages women over men when it comes to custody and how women are gaming the system. We can be sure of two things: that almost every word uttered by Hanson in the conduct of her “review” is going to be offensive and, worse still, that many Australians will agree with her.

One obvious failing of law enforcement in how it deals with domestic violence is the use of restraining orders: Hannah had such an order in place against her husband. It is almost too trite, and yet entirely accurate, to say that these orders are not worth the paper they are written on.

Surely, if someone is dangerous enough to warrant a restraining order he is dangerous enough to warrant an electronic ankle bracelet that will enable authorities to follow his movements?

When all is said and done, I am simply throwing questions into the ether. The solution to domestic violence is not to be found in my words. But we owe it to Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, and the many victims of domestic violence before them, to acknowledge that society is failing women (and their children) and that we must redouble efforts to stamp out the scourge of male violence against women.

It seems so little to ask.

Leo D’Angelo Fisher is a Melbourne journalist, writer and commentator. He is on Twitter: @DAngeloFisher


The media’s role in driving workplace diversity: the risks and rewards of a sometimes rocky road

We’ve heard about the role of diversity in business, why it’s important and the strategies and challenges involved in seeking and managing a diverse workplace. But how well is that diversity reflected in the media? And what role does the media play – and what role should it play – in promoting and shedding light on the diversity agenda?

As journalists, it’s our job to hold a mirror to the business community and the nation’s workplaces. Our role is to challenge, to champion change – to act as a medium through which change is championed by others – to moderate and filter.

The media has been an agent of change for diversity. If you have any doubts about that, compare any of the daily newspapers through the decades and the differences will be stark – both in editorial and advertising content.

From the media’s perspective, however, seeking to reflect diversity can be fraught with unexpected pitfalls.

There are some senior women in business, for example, who flatly refuse to be interviewed about gender issues. They argue that there is more to being a successful woman in business than simply talking about women in business. They do not want to be seen through the prism of gender activism.

Diversity can be a sensitive topic, and occasionally in the eye of the beholder. One manager of Asian heritage told me of his annoyance at being asked by his company’s in-house communications team to be featured in a story about diversity. This man was a fourth-generation Australian and he resented being seen in that light.

In 1998, I was a staff writer with The Bulletin magazine and I covered what was dubbed “the Gutnick tapes” affair. The story involved the disclosure of taped telephone conversations in which employees of Melbourne stockbroking firm JB Were were heard to make anti-Semitic comments about businessman Joseph Gutnick and other Jewish investors.

My story examined the question: is there an undercurrent of anti-Semitism in Melbourne’s business community? I spoke to and featured comments from several Jewish community leaders and businessmen, and Gutnick himself.

The story won praise for shedding light on the contentious and uncomfortable issue of anti-Semitism; but it also attracted criticism, from members of the Jewish community, that the story might potentially fan anti-Semitic sentiment. These critics were basically arguing against rocking the boat. One Jewish leader who had become aware that I was writing the story contacted my editor to express his concern.

It’s important to write such stories, even when they may cause discomfort to some. Experience shows that lasting and substantive change doesn’t just happen. Discredited attitudes take root in silence and indifference.

Recently on my site I revisited the subject of anti-Semitism, which in recent years has assumed a much higher and more disturbing profile. To eradicate anti-Semitism it must be confronted, but it’s a subject that still causes great discomfort, within the Jewish community, and within the media itself.

When ‘the right thing’ is not so obvious

Sometimes the media can tie itself in knots in attempting to do the right thing.

A few years ago, an internal debate raged at a Fairfax magazine when it was proposed that magazine run a list of Asian directors on the boards of ASX 200 companies. The story was framed in the context of the Gillard government’s Asian Century whitepaper and its call for more Asian experience on company boards. Internal critics of the list argued that such a list was racist.

In the end a list was run, but it was limited to Asian-born directors on the top 100 boards – that is, not the original list which would have also included Australian-born Asians. This distinction, it was felt, removed any racist overtones.

BRW magazine used to run several very popular lists throughout the year: the top entrepreneurs, the fastest 100 growing companies, the leading franchises, the best companies to work for… and so on.

With each ranking came the usual complaints: why aren’t there more women on these lists? The answer was simple: these lists were dependent on individuals and businesses nominating themselves: but relatively few women did, even when they received a prod from us to do so.

In 2012, I wrote a cover story for BRW about Carolyn Creswell, the woman behind the hugely successful Carman’s range of muesli products. Carolyn is a very warm, very successful entrepreneur who many women – men and women, but certainly women – find inspirational. Even so, I wasn’t really surprised when we started receiving letters from readers complaining that it was typical that a “male-centric magazine” like BRW should feature an attractive woman on the cover. (At the time, the editor of this “male-centric” magazine was Kate Mills.)

It’s just a fact of life that you can’t please all of the readers all of the time. Editorial judgment doesn’t get side-tracked by that kind of criticism. But it can be tricky terrain.

Most prominent women in business would assert that the business media is sexist.

Melbourne company director Carol Schwartz is perhaps the most vocal critic of the business media for being dominated by male editors, male journalists and male businessmen. I just don’t think that’s true anymore.

Overall, I believe we are seeing more female bylines and more ethnically diverse bylines, and we are seeing more women and non-Anglo people in the business media.

But it does raise the question: How far should the media go in ensuring diversity is well represented in its content?

When I write a feature on a particular topic I will start by working on a list of sources. Some will come from my own network or knowledge of the subject matter, but in many cases I will also cast the net with PR contacts for someone or some business that may fit the bill.

Thinking outside the diversity square

My priority here is to find a relevant contact, but it’s also a way of ensuring that my stories don’t comprise the usual suspects. When I send out the call for potential contacts, I don’t stipulate that diversity be a consideration: my interest is in finding the most appropriate contacts. But the PRs I approach are free to think a little bit outside the diversity square in who they nominate.

In most cases, that contact list will be a diverse grouping, reflective of the wider community. But it won’t always be the case; and even so it may well transpire that the women or non-Anglos on the list may not be available, or interested or necessarily be right for the story.

The view that there is an institutional gender or cultural bias in the media is wrong. Editors, by and large, are very much attuned to the issue. Diversity is something that most editors are conscious of – as one of the many aspects of a publication that must be considered in producing the best possible product.

At BRW, in recent years, there were conscious efforts to get more women in the magazine. A couple of years ago, BRW editor James Thomson – now companies editor at the Financial Review – dedicated an entire issue of the magazine to women to coincide with International Women’s Day. It was a landmark issue.

Also at BRW, to overcome the male-dominated, self-nominated lists, we introduced lists such as the ’30 richest self-made women’, which was based on our research, rather than relying on self-nominees.

But how far should the media go in ensuring diversity in their publications? In the United States in November last year, Bloomberg took the radical step of introducing a “quota for quotes”. Now retired editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler issued this directive: “All Bloomberg News [stories] must include at least one woman’s voice, and preferably a balance of men and women. Women are engaged in every topic we cover. Our journalism should reflect that variety.”

I can’t see it working, nor do I think such hard and fast rules are desirable. Journalistic red tape is not the answer. And if a quota for female voices is desirable, why not for other groups? That said, I certainly understand the motivation.

Journalists have a critical role in promoting diversity – in many respects simply by doing their jobs professionally rather than taking on the mantle of social activists. Communication practitioners, too, can promote diversity in and through the media.

Most journalists are interested in writing stories that are relevant, accurate and engaging, which necessarily means reflecting their audience and the wider community; and most journalists, I believe, are interested in being socially responsible.

How corporate comms can promote diversity

Communication professionals – whether in-house or external media advisers – can play an active part in advancing the diversity agenda:

01 For communications professionals who want to promote diversity in the media: I will start with this very basic but fundamental advice – understand the media, understand the role of the journalist, understand what is news and what is newsworthy, and always consider your pitch not simply in terms of what’s ideal coverage for your organisation, but what fits the interests and audience of a particular journalist and his or her publication.

02 When pitching a diversity-based story – for example, how a company has implemented diversity management targets – think beyond the HR director as the media contact, avoid diversity jargon, and try not to take the high moral ground. Provide meaningful data, illustrate how the program has worked, provide names and details of people who have benefited from the program, and convince your CEO to be prepared to talk about the program and the value of diversity to his or her organisation.

03 When issuing media releases, provide alternate contacts, even if they don’t feature in the body of the release, to provide journalists with optional contacts that reflect the diversity of your organisation.

04 When arranging speakers for your own conferences, or providing speakers for external conferences, be mindful of the opportunity to promote diversity through your choice of speaker.

05 Compile contact lists for journalists that reflect the diversity of your organisation. A directory is one option, but also consider tailoring a less expansive list to the particular interests of a journalist, with maybe half a dozen contacts. If you’re targeting a writer who specialises in workplace issues, tailor a list accordingly – it may be the chairs of in-house diversity, cultural or LGBT committees, for example, or a list of employees who have won awards or have some special achievement. You can issue a fresh list every month or quarter. Journalists will keep the names they want for their own contact books.

06 Various organisations compile media contact or speaker lists; these are usually for women in business, such as the Women’s Leadership Institute which compiles a Women for Media Database. Encourage notable women in your organisation to be on those lists. If your organisation is part of an industry association, consider the creation of an industry-wide database of contacts.

07 If you’re not already part of the content marketing revolution, becoming your own publisher is an ideal way to promote the diversity of your organisation with key stakeholders, including the media. ANZ BlueNotes is a perfect example.

This is an edited transcript of a presentation to the International Association of Business Communicators (Vic) forum, ‘Driving the Diversity Agenda’, Melbourne, 18 March 2015.