Denis Muller

Black Saturday bushfires and the question of consent

Consent as it applies to the practice of journalism raises some peculiarly difficult ethical questions, involving the concepts of power, portrayal, harm, trust, betrayal, fairness and honesty, yet rarely is it referred to explicitly in journalists' codes of ethics. It is an especially acute problem in the aftermath of a disaster, when the potential subject's capacity may be impaired. Drawing on research conducted in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia, in February 2009, this paper finds that valid consent may be obtained, even though it does not meet the standards of either informed or simple consent.

Keywords: bushfires, codes, consent, disasters, ethics, media


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Note on the contributor

Dr Denis Muller is a senior lecturer in politics and journalism at the University of Melbourne. He practised as a journalist for 27 years, mostly on the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, Melbourne. His special research interests centre on media ethics, and he was a consultant to the Finkelstein Inquiry into Media Regulation, conducted in Australia in 2011-12, contributing sections on press theory, codes of ethics, and media performance. In 2011 he contributed two chapters to Australian Journalism Today (Matthew Ricketson, ed., Palgrave Macmillan) on the subjects of sources and confidences and on mechanisms of media accountability. He may be contacted at or 613 8344 9439 or 61419 414 121.