Former Age photographer sues over Bali trauma

A Melbourne court has heard a Walkley-winning photojournalist's life unravelled after she covered the first anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings.

The Age newspaper is being sued for an estimated $1 million in loss of earnings after the woman, who cannot be identified, mentally unravelled.

The flagship newspaper is being accused of failing to provide a safe workplace and breaching its duty of care.

The Victorian Supreme Court heard the woman was a trailblazer in her field and was held in high regard by her colleagues.

"She typified a professional," her brother said.

"She lived for her job and was never without a camera." The court was told all of that changed when the photographer's mental health started to deteriorate after working on a series of 21 stories on the anniversary of the Bali bombings.

She was greatly affected by the grieving families who had lost people in the terror attack, the court heard and that over a period of four years, her psychological health deteriorated.

She now suffers from post traumatic stress, anxiety and extreme depression.

Her lawyer argued the work of journalists exposes them to a risk of psychological trauma similar to that experienced by police and paramedics.

He said journalists were taught to be above the story, not to get emotional or react.

"You've got to be tough," he told the court.

"You've got to get on with it." 'Not coping' The court heard staff did not seek help for fear of being deemed unprofessional and that their normal coping mechanism was to drink excessively.

The plaintiff's lawyer claims The Age failed to notice the once-vibrant, passionate woman was not coping.

Her lawyer also said the company failed to act when a colleague she had worked closely with on the stories committed suicide.

It is claimed the newspaper should have known of the risks associated with coverage of disasters and should have had a "best-practice peer-support system" in place.

The court heard similar systems were used by the BBC and the ABC.

The judge was told a request by the photographer for help to pay for counselling was ignored.

Her transfer to the paper's Sunday edition saw her return to cover upsetting and stressful stories.

Following a successful career spanning 20 years, the photojournalist was sacked in 2007 after she spent two years off sick on WorkCover.

Lawyers for The Age told the court that at the time, the paper was at the forefront of staff care and had an employees assistance program in place.

The paper denies any breach of duty of care.

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