THE BLOG

Our Australian Cousins Showed They Can Keep a Calm Head in More Ways Than One on Their Darkest Day

17/12/2014 18:05 GMT | Updated 16/02/2015 10:59 GMT

In the immediate wake of the horrific siege in Sydney earlier this week the focus has quite rightly been on the bravery of those hostages and the awful situation that unfolded when Australian special forces stormed that café in a hail of flash bangs and bullets. But as the new scycle inevitably moves on, perhaps there's an important point to be raised about my old colleagues in the Australian media.

During my two years in Sydney my desk in the Channel Seven Newsroom was about two hundred metres from the Lindt Café. It was the coffee shop of choice each time you needed a mid morning pick me up, I must have gone in at least once a week for an espresso or a thick and gooey hot chocolate - many people at Seven did.

When the siege began the network's journalists were apparently wrapping up a morning meeting. They needed only walk sixteen steps to the giant glass windows that front the office and they would been able to view a panoramic of the first armed cops dashing towards the building opposite. Indeed most live broadcasts make use of those windows in some way. The presenters of The Moring Show simply broke away from their diet of cooking, fashion and celebrity gossip and turned around to watch the chaos unfold right behind them.

They can be an excitable bunch at the best of times. My old friends at Seven and their mates at Channel's Nine and Ten, their newspaper colleagues in the ranks of the Murdoch owned press, the shock jocks on stations like 2GB and 2UE. When I left eighteen months ago they were still clinging to tired and bitter formats like 'Today Tonight' and 'A Current Affair.' The shows were the worst kind of tabloid telly - whipping up giant scandals from insignificant transgressions, demonising certain sections of society. Daytime radio hosts would say the most awful things and usually get away with it - one notorious character was even known as 'The Human Headline' because of the endless outrage surrounding his broadcasts.

When the crisis at Martin Place initially broke out a small part of me feared what they might do with it. Forty eight hours later I think it's fair to say many of them walked an almost perfect line between reporting and restraint. They managed to get the pictures out, pass on the facts, analyze the circumstances and stay on air without making the situation worse and putting any more lives in danger.

The hostage taker - Man Haron Monis - had three central requests, a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Tont Abbott, broadcast live on the airwaves, a message passed to the Australian people that this was a terror attack on behalf of IS, and delivery of a black flag associated with that group to the café. One by one Journalists in newsrooms across Sydney took calls from the hostages regarding these details, one by one they passed them to the authorities, one by one they self censored, each engaging their brain fully before ever reaching for the publish button.

Shocking videos of the hostages emerged and again restraint was used - they were kept under lock and key while the siege was still ongoing and shown later. Faces were blurred, recorded footage used when a liveshot may have run the risk of benefiting the attacker, one presenter purposefully paused for earpiece confirmation before passing on details of that Islamic flag to his viewers - knowing it was important to get the them right. Twenty four hours later - in a touching moment - another presenter pushed on through tears as she broke news of the two deaths - one of the hostages who didn't make it out was a friend and occasional colleague.

It wasn't perfect - no national media acts as one. An unsavoury reporter I'd once worked beside thought it would be a good idea to tweet rumours about a spate of bombs all over the city to her thousands of followers. As usual speculation spiralled out of control on social media where some saw it fit to mock and attack the 'I'll Ride With You' hashtag that so impressed the rest of the world.

But largely - and admittedly, from my electronic vantage point on the other side of the world - our Australian cousins showed they can keep a calm head in more ways than one on their darkest day. At a time of being tested those tasked with reporting the siege remembered they were humans first and journalists second. They could teach lessons to a lot of people working on British tabloids, they're the kind of people we need in the media.