Editor’s note: this piece has been edited to more accurately reflect reports on the death of Rowan Baxter.
Local and international headlines discussing the alleged murder of a young Brisbane family have been criticised for appearing to highlight the accused’s sporting career and his life as a “loving dad”, renewing discussions about how the media ought to report on suspected domestic violence.
Hannah Baxter, 31, and her three children, Laianah, 6, Aaliyah, 4, and Trey, 3, died as a result of a car fire in Brisbane’s Camp Hill yesterday morning. Eyewitnesses allege Baxter’s estranged husband Rowan Baxter poured petrol on the family immediately before the blaze. He died at the scene of what’s believed to be a self-inflicted stab wound.
A QLD Police investigation is ongoing, but the ABC reports authorities are expected to “give more details of their investigation into the suspected murder-suicide this afternoon.”
While many articles discussing the incident focussed on the distressing allegations that Hannah Baxter and her children were killed in an act of domestic violence, other publications appeared to highlight Rowan Baxter’s former career as a professional rugby player.
Echoing a complaint about a headline posted to the Fox Sports site, Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt said, “headlines like this are offensive & contribute to the national crisis of violence against women and children.”
We grieve for Hannah Baxter and her children.— Adam Bandt (@AdamBandt) February 19, 2020
And headlines like this are offensive & contribute to the national crisis of violence against women and children.
We won’t stop violence until we start calling it for what it is.
If you need help today, https://t.co/5awxNumqgW. https://t.co/kDgPWGMeCl
Other Twitter users have ‘corrected’ headlines they believe do not accurately convey the severity of the accused’s actions, or unnecessarily focus on his sporting achievements at the expense of details about Hannah Baxter’s own life.
Despicable headlines by media after Rowan Baxter callously slaughters his children and people argue that Australia doesn’t have a DV problem! pic.twitter.com/0HW5OkTkuk— Sam (@whatinthe_sam) February 19, 2020
this article does contain the words ‘an act of pure evil’ -but it’s buried under unacceptable headlines like this ‘Baxter died along with his three children when their car was set alight…’ as well as the one in the image. Media, PLS STOP. https://t.co/Coj3FE7E1v— Dr Steven Roberts (@SteveRoberts_) February 19, 2020
Some of the publications shown above, including Fox Sports and 7 News, have published subsequent articles which more assertively frame the allegations.
However, the Daily Star Football article remains online. At time of writing, Daily Mail Australia features descriptions of Rowan Baxter portraying himself as a “fun-loving dad” who perpetrated a “cowardly rampage.”
Following those reports, the South Australian Commissioner for Victims’ Rights shared a message on social media saying news coverage of the matter “should not further traumatise surviving family and friends.
“Some of the media headlines and images may do this.”
In a statement released this afternoon, anti-domestic violence agency Our Watch called on reporters not to sensationalise or minimise the issue of family violence.
“The violent killing of Hannah Baxter and her children in Camp Hill raises the issue of violence against women and the urgent need for greater public awareness of this national emergency,” a spokesperson said.
“Our Watch strongly urges journalists reporting on these tragedies and similar stories to do it in a way that informs, educates, and contributes usefully to a public dialogue about the issue of violence against women.”
Our Watch states that on average, one woman in Australia is murdered by a former or current partner each week. That’s a figure which should make headlines on its own.
Help is available.
If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.
If you’d like to speak to someone about domestic violence, please call the 1800
Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online.
Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.