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Newspaper appeals crime reporter's PTSD payout


A Melbourne newspaper must wait to learn if it has successfully appealed a $180,000 payout made to a former journalist traumatised by covering gruesome crimes.

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The former crime and court reporter at The Age was awarded compensation earlier this year for post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression.

She covered major stories including the death of four-year-old Darcey Freeman, who was thrown off Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge by her father.

But lawyers for the newspaper argued the reporter, who has not been named for legal reasons, had been supported and was granted transfers when they were requested.

“The duty of care … requires a non-bullying environment, an employee assistance program and not forcing people to do things they say they can’t medically do,” barrister James Gorton QC told the Court of Appeal on Wednesday.

He argued employers shouldn’t intervene or ask about someone’s psychological state because it could conflict with their “privacy and internal autonomy”.

The journalist had used the employee assistance program, a private psychologist and was seeing a GP to manage her symptoms, the court was told.

But even if a formal peer support program was in place, as well as the assistance program, it may not have prevented the psychiatric injury, Gorton argued.

During a previous three-week trial, the County Court was told the reporter repeatedly asked her superiors for better support and debriefing after covering stories.

The day she reported on the death of Darcey in 2009, she requested a transfer away from crime reporting and was moved into sport.

“I have had enough of death and destruction,” she told her bosses.

Despite her mental health concerns, the journalist felt pushed into accepting a role covering trials in the Supreme Court a year later.

Barrister Stephen O’Meara QC, representing the reporter, said the newspaper owed a duty of care “when psychiatric injury is reasonably foreseeable”.

He said it was clear from 2007 there were emerging symptoms of trauma and this was when it should have been apparent to employers there was an issue.

If there was more trauma support training for the reporter and her colleagues, a role change could have occurred sooner and been helpful.

“To avoid the injury she had to be moved,” O’Meara said.

But lawyers for the newspaper said it was “entirely speculative” that the reporter would have moved had she been asked to do so earlier.

The reporter moved roles again in 2013 before accepting a voluntary redundancy and leaving journalism.

The appeal judges reserved their decision.

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