No more "good blokes": a call for guidelines on reporting murder

Somewhere in Australia, right now, there is a man considering killing their entire family, and themselves.

There may, in fact, be more than one. Probably is more than one, in fact. But we know it's a man; perpetrators of familicide, or family annihilation, are almost exclusively male. Maybe he's lost his job, gambled his way into debt, believes the world is an evil and corrupt place; maybe it's for no reason at all. For whatever reason, he's decided that he wants to die. Not only that, but that everyone he loves most should die with him. And why not? If he was to simply kill himself, he'd be leaving them with the debt, with the shame. For that, he may be remembered as a coward.

But the man planning how he can wipe out his entire family can be sure that if he does so, that act of murder will not define him. He'll be remembered as a good bloke.

Like Geoff Hunt, who pointed a gun at the heads each of his three children and his wife, and pulled the trigger. He was remembered as a lovely bloke, a hardworking family man, driven to despair over his wife's traumatic brain injury and sparing his family the pain of their unbearable lives. As with reports from the Margaret River shooting that one or more of the children have autism, the mention of disability adds to the redemption of the murderer; the stress of coping with a loved one's disability makes murder all the more understandable. And when the murder of the Lutz-Manrique children in 2017 was described as "an act of love", it tells us that the lives of people with disabilities are not quite worth living.

Channel 7 journalist Robert Ovadia is apparently angry that people are challenging the good bloke narrative. Ovadia asks whether we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people, before stating we need to leave Aaron Cockman, who described his former father in law, who'd murdered Cockman's four children, as a good bloke - alone.

The people who needed to leave Aaron Cockman alone are the media who broadcast the words of a man who was obviously in shock hours after losing his children. But no one was challenging Aaron Cockman. They were upset and angry that yet again, a man who murdered their entire family was being remembered as a good bloke - in one case, described as such in the headline of an article despite no one quoted in the article describing him that way. 

The NSW Coroner found that Geoff Hunt murdered his family because of an "egocentric delusion that his wife and children would be better off dying than living without him." That is how we should be talking about family annihilators. Not what great blokes they were. The man planning how he will kill his family does not need to know his actions will be rationalised, explained away, forgiven. In the murderous, egotistical scheme he's devising, he doesn't need encouragement to see himself as a hero.

Do we need to spell out that mass murderers are bad people? Yes. We need to say that good blokes don't kill their wives, their children, their grandchildren. We need the next "ordinary decent bloke" who plans to slaughter his entire family to know he won't be remembered as a good guy. We have guidelines for how suicide is reported in the media, to discourage anyone who may think of copying; we need guidelines on reporting mass murder. Of course family are entitled to remember the deceased however they choose; it doesn't mean the media need to report it. When it happens again - and of course, of course, someone killing their entire family will happen again, cause the world is a bit shit - then at least we can know we are trying a bit harder, as a society, to prevent it. 

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