Australian Photojournalist Loses PTSD Lawsuit, May Still Set Precedent

Egyptian Peacekeepers at Work in North Darfur, Sudan

Media outlets may need to start considering the possible psychological effects of difficult assignments on their photojournalists in the wake of an Australian photographer’s claim of crippling post-traumatic stress.

The unnamed photographer, identified in court papers only as “AZ,” lost his case against Australian newspaper The Age, but attorneys urge media outlets to consider the case as a warning. “This should be top of mind for people who are assigning journalists to stories,” personal injury lawyer Peter Carter told The Australian

The photographer in the case had been assigned in 2003 to accompany a reporter interviewing survivors of the 2002 terrorist bombings in Bali. He said he suffered debilitating post-traumatic stress and major depression as a result of the assignment.


The Victoria Supreme Court judge hearing the case agreed AZ was unlikely to ever work as a photographer again, but said the newspaper was not responsible because it could not reasonably have foreseen such psychological injury.

In fact, the newspaper even had systems in place “permitting and in fact encouraging” the reporting of psychological problems. And even the photojournalist’s doctors didn’t fully comprehend the impact of the Bali assignment until 2005.

But it’s the “reasonably foreseen” test that should have media outlets wary, explains Michel Gawenda, former editor-in-chief of The Age, because it puts the onus on the outlets to gauge a journalist’s mental state when sending them on more obviously difficult assignments.

“I know that journalists and photographers saw dead bodies and people who had been burnt to death,” he told The Australian. “There is no getting away from the fact that some of the stories we cover are confronting and difficult and can lead to trauma.”

(via The Australian)

Image credit: Egyptian Peacekeepers in North Darfur, Sudan by United Nations Photo and US Marines by WBUR

  • Carl Meyer

    First world problems, photojournalists from developing nations don’t have the luxury of suffering PTSD.

  • tron

    but apparently some petapixel users have the luxury of posting stupid comments

  • Alan Klughammer

    I think what you are trying to say is that the people living in the violent areas do not have the luxury of leaving (and then suffering from the memories).
    While this is true, the way you phrased it implies that PTSD is not really a big thing, and sufferers should just get over it…
    I would not want to visit, let alone live in, a war zone, and I have nothing but sympathy for those living there (and rage for those in power who prolong the situation)

  • David Liang

    I don’t find it stupid at all. A war photographer sent into a war zone by his company should know the risks before hand, and acknowledge the possible psychological damage prior to “willingly” accepting the job/assignment.
    PTSD is obviously a severe issue but the participant was of sane mind and willingly accepted both the job and the assignment. The employer as stated above had safe guards in place as any responsible employer should.
    What happened after is tragic but the employer was not at fault, and that is the only thing this case is saying.

  • Rob

    Sad, it certainly is, my feeling is when it comes to deciding a career in photojournalism, video journalism or any other front line media work you have to obviously take into consideration what exactly you are getting yourself into. The possible after effects of war should be clearly obvious before you make this decision. I have been in this business for over 30 years and have certainly experienced some of the awful sites and stories that are covered on a daily basis. I have to say that I don’t know of any media organization that absolutely insists that you take on any dangerous or harrowing assignments. Most news organizations might however expect you to willingly cover such work and would have explained the type and nature of assignments from you on day one of your interview. Trust me I’m no Rambo, I simply can somehow deal with the next day, week, month, year and get on with the next assignment. Old folks and children caught up in war get to me sometimes and I get emotional but exposing and telling the story gets me through this. Again my sympathies to this photographer but blaming the origination that employed you for your post-traumatic stress and major depression as a result of the assignment is unfair.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I’m pretty sure what tron was calling stupid was the idea that PTSD is a “luxury” of the first world, not the fact that AZ lost the case.

  • Butte

    PTSD exists everywhere, and people suffer from it everywhere. It’s just not acknowledged or treated everywhere.

  • David Sorcher

    I wish there was more information with this story, but from what i can tell this is NOT about a war photographer sent into a war zone. The story he covered was interviewing survivors from the 2002 terrorist bombing in Bali a year after the fact. The photographer therefore was NOT in a “war zone” any more than one would call NYC a war zone a year after 9/11. Is there some reason the article uses photographs from an unspecified and unconnected war zone to illustrate the story, because that seems rather misleading to me.
    Now it does seem possible that he saw people crippled or disfigured by that bombing. He may have seen some photographs of the dead victims. But he wouldn’t have seen actual bodies in this case so i’m confused about The Australian suggesting that they did see such things (a year after the fact???).
    The newspaper is stated as having a system in place for reporting psychological problems which it seems the photographer by-passed. I’m sorry this photographer was so affected by coving this story, but i am having a really hard time seeing how or where the publication is at fault here.