In case there are any researchers or journalists out there with too much time on their hands, here are two ideas for stories or research projects.

• What is the role of the media in Mr Ward’s death?

The 4 Corners report on the death of Mr Ward, an Aboriginal man who was incarcerated in the most inhumane of conditions, was distressing at so many levels. I mean no disrespect to the team who produced the report when saying that it was an “easy” story, in one aspect anyway.

This is because the failings that led to his death – the systematic problems as well as the failures of ordinary human decency – were so very clear-cut. There were no ambiguities or mitigating factors – just a series of stuff-ups that were at least partly reflective of pervasive racism, at both individual and institutional levels.

The program generated plenty of moral outrage – at all the institutions and individuals who contributed, in one way or another, to Mr Ward’s death.

Afterwards I wondered about the role of one of society’s most powerful institutions – the media. It seems that the bureaucrats and politicians didn’t act as they should have – despite having plenty of warnings that such a tragedy was likely –  because they were under no obvious political or public pressure to do the right thing by people like Mr Ward.

When the former Corrective Services Minister spoke of her failure to win her Cabinet colleagues’ support for improving the conditions for prisoner transport, I wondered if it might have been a different story if the WA Government had faced days of page-one headlines on the issue.

So the story I’m pitching: interview the key informants for the 4 Corners story to see if they’d ever tried to get media coverage for their concerns in the years leading up to Mr Ward’s death, and what response they’d had.  Examine the amount and type of media coverage in WA about the broader issues – prisoner transport and the care of Indigenous prisoners, in particular.

Does the so-called 4th Estate share at least some of the culpability?  We’re generally not very good at asking ourselves these questions – much easier to point the finger elsewhere.

• Documenting the Baker deal

When senior researchers and members of the NHMRC gathered in Canberra recently for a workshop on conflicts of interest, one of the hot topics for discussion was the controversy about the sponsorship deal between Sanofi-Aventis and the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, which was found to be in breach of the Mecicines Australia code of conduct.

It got me thinking that it would be informative to rigorously investigate the views of Baker staffers about the issue, and also to document the internal processes that led to the deal. Who signed off on it? Was the Institute’s Board involved? These are all important matters, and there is some value in understanding them.  The lessons from this episode are relevant beyond the Baker’s walls.

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