Leave the poor man alone.
That’s what I thought when I saw the pack of vultures descend on Alan Bond less than 24 hours after finding his beloved wife dead in the swimming pool.
Diana Bliss was a tortured soul who’d twice tried to kill herself.
“We spoke to her last week and she seemed brighter, and we were all hoping for a miracle. Instead we got this,” one of her friends told me yesterday.
Losing a loved one is deeply traumatic. In the case of suicide, it can be almost unbearable.
So imagine what it was like for Alan Bond (pictured left with Diana on their wedding day in 1995), leaving the house for the first time since the tragedy, to go to church on Sunday morning.
This is how it was reported on the PerthNow website:
“He struggled to find the words to explain.
“In the end, Alan Bond – the man who, during one of the country’s most “colourful” careers has never been short of a quotable quote – answered simply: ‘I lost my beautiful wife.’
“That was all he had.
“The media had gathered outside the house Alan Bond shared with his wife Diana Bliss in the Perth suburb of Cottesloe yesterday, hoping for some insight into her sudden death.
“The former tycoon sought solace in his local church before joining his family to mourn her death.
“Looking distraught, and frailer than he should for his 73 years, he appeared to be overwhelmed by the crowd awaiting his return.
“Asked how he was feeling, Mr Bond paused and appeared to struggle for the words, before saying softly: ‘It’s so new. I lost my beautiful wife.’ “
How dare a journalist accuse a grieving man of not being his usual quotable self.
Is it any wonder he was “overwhelmed” and looked “frailer than he should”.
The first question asked was this: “Mr Bond, how are you feeling?”
Talk about Special Subject the Bleeding Obvious.
Later that day, Mr Bond’s daughter Jody Fewster said the family would “appreciate a little bit of privacy at this time”.
When I started in journalism 25 years ago, a news director gave some salient advice.
“If you’re doing a death knock, make sure you do it within 24 hours. That’s when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he said.
As newsreader Jessica Rowe wrote on The Hoopla last October, “Often the shell-shocked family would be told that, by talking, it might prevent the tragedy happening to another family”.
Sometimes, we’d couch it in terms of a ‘tribute’ to the deceased.
This is morally reprehensible.
People in the first stage of grief are desperate to talk to someone – anyone.
The media gathers at Alan Bond’s Perth home.
But the Journalists’ Code of Ethics is clear: “Respect private grief and personal privacy. Journalists have the right to resist the compulsion to intrude.”
Note the word “right” in the second sentence.
That means a journo can turn around to the Chief-of-Staff and say, “No, I won’t do that”.
In practice, this rarely happens.
The young ones are keen to make a name; the seasoned professionals are hardened to the task.
There are, however, some cases where it serves a valuable purpose.
Last week, the family of three people killed in a horrific truck accident on the Hume Highway held a press conference, calling for witnesses to assist police with their investigation.
But what happened in Perth was nothing more than grief porn – a relative of disaster porn.
And its tentacles are spreading through our increasingly fragmented media.
Competition between TV, newspapers, radio and websites is so fierce, there are no longer any boundaries.
Witness the feeding frenzy after the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.
As Wendy Harmer wrote, there were “endless news photographs and footage of people, clearly identified, in a moment of extreme vulnerability”.
Fortunately, the audience is fighting back.
“Pretty disgusted at the media chasing Alan Bond for a statement. Poor bloke just lost his wife, give him space ya vultures,” wrote Triple M announcer Dave Higgins on Twitter.
“Regardless of your thoughts on the man, sticking microphones in Alan Bond’s face the morning after his wife’s sudden death was unnecessary,” tweeted Anthony Leach.
We will all feel the wrench of grief.
The least we deserve is the dignity of privacy.
*Tracey Spicer is a respected journalist who has worked for many years in radio, print and television.
Channel Nine and 10 news presenter and reporter; 2UE and Vega broadcaster; News Ltd. columnist; Sky News anchor …it’s been a dream career for the Brisbane schoolgirl with a passion for news and current affairs.
Tracey is a passionate advocate for issues as diverse as voluntary euthanasia, childhood vaccinations, breastfeeding, better regulation of foreign investment in Australia’s farmland, and curtailed opening hours for pubs and clubs.
She is an Ambassador for World Vision, ActionAid, WWF, the Royal Hospital for Women’s Newborn Care Centre and the Penguin Foundation, Patron of Cancer Council NSW and The National Premmie Foundation, and the face of the Garvan Institute’s research into pancreatic cancer, which killed her beloved mother Marcia 11 years ago.
But Tracey’s favourite job, with her husband, is bringing up two beautiful children – six-year-old Taj and five-year-old Grace. Visit Tracey’s website at www.spicercommunications.biz or follow her on Twitter @spicertracey