Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha Canterbury Earthquakes Royal Commission – Te Komihana Rūwhenua o Waitaha

Those who lost relatives and friends in the 22 February earthquake can be assured that there will be a very thorough inquiry into the failure of buildings that resulted in loss of life.
Chair, Justice Mark Cooper

The Impact of Media Reporting on People Bereaved by Disaster

As a step towards reducing isolation and increasing understanding for people embarking on traumatic grief, some of the families bereaved by the February 2009 Victorian bushfires in Australia wrote a book entitled  'Surviving Traumatic Grief, When Loved Ones Die in a Disaster'. Through the Commission, they gifted copies of the book to families bereaved by the Canterbury earthquakes. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive because the book describes first hand the experiences of people who have been bereaved by disaster.

The book includes information about the impact of the media on traumatic grief.  This information may be useful for the media so the Commission has published the below summary with the permission of the Sue Evans Fund for Families


Disasters are public events with an impact on the whole community as well as those immediately involved.  They attract a lot of media attention.

Losing loved ones in a disaster is different to other deaths. To recover from the loss of a loved one, people need to grieve.   Everyone grieves differently but privacy is essential. The high level of public interest can make privacy hard to find, causing distress and making it difficult for people to grieve.

Most people have little experience of being the centre of media attention. Finding themselves in this situation in the midst of intense grief can be emotionally confusing.

Media stories which seek to attach blame, show that things should not have happened as they did or suggest the deaths were not necessary can stimulate many emotions that can be confusing and disorienting for grief.

Attaching labels "Black Saturday", "Ash Wednesday", "Bali bombings", "Port Arthur" can be perceived as simplifying events and making them into a commodity.

"It's like our right to privacy doesn't exist and it keeps re-traumatising us every time it is in the media. Your loved ones' photos and names can be published in the newspaper without you even knowing." (Chris)

Many bereaved people find that the days and weeks leading up to special occasions such as anniversaries are sometimes more difficult than the actual days. Some people report feeling the first or second anniversary of the tragedy more deeply than the actual event.

"Coming up to the first anniversary was very, very hard, from Christmas through January, until a couple of days after the anniversary. But the build up was the worst." (Vera)


For more information about the book please contact the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement.