South African journalists need to know how to deal with trauma victims
and survivors so that they do not unintentionally cause them damage, according to a media release from the organisers of a seminar on journalism and trauma.

According to Dr Merle Friedman, an internationally recognised trauma specialist, journalists need to understand how trauma impacts on the behavior and actions of a victim.

“Research has shown that to encourage a person to talk about what they have just experienced may precipitate post-traumatic stress disorder.

Journalists tend to focus on the victim who is able to hold herself together and talk to the media, assuming that she is doing "well," while another victim would literally be falling apart emotionally. Trauma specialists will know that the one crying may cope better than the one who is seemingly holding it together,” she said.

Dr Friedman spoke at a seminar on Journalism and Trauma in South Africa presented by the South African Institute for Traumatic Stress (SAITS) in Observatory, Johannesburg, on Wednesday 23 March.

The seminar marks the start of a National Awareness Campaign on Trauma culminating on World Trauma Day on 17 October 2007. An important aspect of the campaign will be to sensitise the media and journalists in South Africa about trauma by providing information and training on how

journalists should deal with trauma victims, and also on how journalists can look after themselves. The reality today is that there is no one working in the field of media that has not been exposed to a traumatic event or multiple traumatic events, either directly or indirectly, and Dr Friedman highlighted the effects that this can have on journalists.

According to Wiida Fourie, a journalism lecturer from the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria, several journalism training programmes have started to include trauma in their curriculum.

“We have to try and better prepare our students for what lies ahead. My students usually tell me that they will not be able to cover an infant rape story. I then have to tell them that they are probably going to have to cover several of those. Unfortunately we cannot run away from the harsher realities of society. It is our duty to expose it, thereby also exposing ourselves,” she said.

According to Fourie many journalists are also still dealing with the aftereffects of covering the violent eighties and nineties, and now they have to face reporting violent crime as well. “Although most media institutions have systems in place to help journalists when they need counseling, journalists are notoriously hesitant to seek help,” she said.

Leoni Futter, director of the institute, said “SAITS values the role that journalist play and can play in mitigating the impact of trauma in our society”.

SAITS is establishing a network of journalists and trauma trainers and specialists to provide support and information on the latest developments in the field of traumatic stress by means of email, discussion groups, training courses and seminars. Interested parties can contact SAITS at <> or email Wiida Fourie at <> to join the mailing list.

*Contact details:*
Leoni Futter
South African Institute for Traumatic Stress (SAITS)
Tel. (011) 648-7376
Cell 084-2988-135

Wiida Fourie
Department of Journalism, Tshwane University of Technology
Tel. (012) 382 5418
Cell 082 788 9332
Email: <>