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Opinion

Pursuing the Clipsal 500 truth

Opinion

One of InDaily’s intentions is to cover issues that others ignore.

We did this yesterday, and the response was significant, particularly criticism about the way we presented the story.

We reported on the YWCA’s ongoing concerns – based on surveys – that many women feel unsafe and are harassed on the streets during the Clipsal 500 V8 race.

READ MORE: The YWCA responds to our article.

Every official organisation involved with the race denies there is a particular safety problem connected with the race. This includes the police, race organisers and the Government (women’s sexual assault services refused to comment for our story).

In fact, the common refrain is that events like the Clipsal increase safety in the city.

If this is true, why do so many women report to the YWCA that they’ve been harassed and feel less safe during the race? Is there something about the culture of the event that encourages threatening behaviour and crimes against women?

In a city where the Clipsal race is treated as unambiguously positive (apart from traffic problems), I felt it was an issue that deserved further exploration, so I commissioned the article.

Rather than a straight news piece with two competing voices essentially cancelling each other out, I asked journalist Liam Mannix to produce a news feature – so it would contain the facts, of course, but also his observations and analysis of the YWCA’s untiring, and mostly unsuccessful, efforts to get this issue on Adelaide’s agenda.

What was interesting to me – and to Mannix – was the fact that the YWCA didn’t feel it was being taken seriously, either by the media or the institutions that run the race and protect our citizens. We wanted to understand why.

So we set about gathering the official data about crime rates during the race, which we found to be sketchy and inconclusive.

Mannix tried to provide an objective analysis of the statistics, and also get inside the mindset of the YWCA, as well as the organisations that deny there’s a problem. However, the widespread interpretation of the article was that we, as a publication, were taking an editorial position which denied the concerns of those who responded to the YWCA, and that the YWCA itself was irrational.

This was not our intention and, as editor, I regret that this impression was conveyed. An attempt to be soberly analytical, to be scrupulously balanced and fair, had the opposite effect, which is a failure of communication for which I take responsibility.

However, what concerns me more than criticism about the tenor of the article is the real possibility that the issue raised by the YWCA surveys will be dismissed again; that it will briefly flare into life as a media storm and disappear, never to be considered seriously.

We’re happy to take criticism, publish it, engage with those making criticisms and reflect carefully on their concerns – and we have done so. But wouldn’t it be ironic if our publication became the sole object of attacks about this issue when it is apparent that the powers-that-be don’t consider the YWCA’s surveys to signify a problem worth exploring?

If I’ve learned one thing from my career in journalism, it’s that if something is trenchantly ignored by the establishment, then something is going on. It’s not a conspiracy theory; it’s part of the dynamics of institutional behaviour.

And judging by the comments that have flowed in since we published yesterday, it is clear that many women know exactly what is going on around the Clipsal 500 through bitter, personal experience.

Why isn’t this reflected in the official police statistics? Our article focused on trying to make sense of this question, but perhaps that’s where we lost some readers. The issue is clearly far more complex and distressing than a statistical analysis can elucidate. There are also documented reasons for under-reporting of violence against women, which we didn’t examine in detail.

In any case, the response of many correspondents indicates to me that we’re getting at a troubling and deep cultural problem about which many women have felt ignored or silenced.

We will continue to report on this issue.

David Washington is Editor of InDaily.

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