The legend of ANZAC was made public thanks to journalism – but can the media continue telling that legend in it’s true spirit?
British war correspondent for the Fleet Street papers in London, Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett, wrote the very first dispatch about the Gallipoli landing on April 25, 1915.
He wrote of the soldiers’ courage, of how they were worthy of the Allied Forces serving under the British Crown.
Adjunct Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra, Sharon Mascall-Dare, says Ashmead-Bartlett was the first person to put the Anzac legend on the map.
“It set off this whole idea of the Anzacs being a Corp in their own right, being a fighting force in their own right, and having a reputation in their own right and a reputation for courage and bravery under fire,” she says.
Charles Bean was the Australian war correspondent, and later became the country’s official World War One historian, providing embedded coverage alongside soldiers in the trenches.
This early journalism played a significant role in the way the Anzac experience was defined at the time and shaped the way the legend is remembered one hundred years on.
But modern reporters, especially over this Centenary, will influence the way the narrative is told in years to come.
“Given the kind of recognition that historians and journalists give to those men, I think journalists in turn need to understand the responsibility they have today,” Dr Mascall-Dare says.
“This is a once in a century opportunity to tell the story of Anzac and tell the story of its legacy so that an entirely new generation can reach an understanding of its significance in a modern Australia.”
Through her PhD research, Dr Mascall-Dare interviewed 30 journalists who have covered Anzac Day over a decade.
Their accounts affirm that Anzac history is at risk of being misrepresented through repetitive themes, clichés and cut and paste stories from one year to the next.
“You hear ‘age has not wearied them’ or ‘the ranks are thinning’ all the time,” she says.
“There’s also talk of the Anzac spirit, which is a very often-used term, but if you actually ask journalists ‘what do you mean by that term?’ very often they find it difficult to define.
“I think with the Centenary we have the responsibility to move on from those clichés and try to communicate the significance and relevance of Anzac Day to our audience in a far more responsible and intelligent way.”
It has been a hundred years since the Gallipoli landings and as the time gap continues to widen it will become more difficult for Australians to connect with the story.
Dr Mascall-Dare says it is essential for journalists to “reach a deeper, richer level of coverage” that will resonate with a wider audience.
“Australia is now a multicultural country and we have lots of people who come from a range of cultural backgrounds and nationalities, and they’re not all acquainted with the story of Anzac,” she says.
“How are they going to explain the importance of Anzac Day to Australians who have no obvious connection with this aspect of Australian history?
“How are they going to tell this story in a way that those parts of the Australian community also feel engaged and feel connected to the story in some way?
“Journalists have a responsibility to be able to communicate it accurately so a diverse audience from a range of backgrounds can understand it and understand its significance.”
Dr Mascall-Dare says there have been genuine efforts to capture the diversity and find untold Anzac stories with the ‘100 voices of the Centenary’ theme, that has surfaced some stories about “country boys from the bush” for example.
“They were obviously very much part of the Anzac story, but we also perhaps need to talk about Chinese Anzacs or talk about women who served as nurses or indeed women who served as doctors on the western front,” she says.
“Importantly Indigenous servicemen is something that has become very much a theme as part of the Centenary, restoring the stories of Indigenous Australians to the Anzac narrative.”