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The War Zone - Transcript

PROGRAM TRANSCRIPT: Monday, 10 September , 2007

RAY MARTIN: Hello, I'm Ray Martin. It's my pleasure tonight to present a story about a friend and
colleague of mine. For 18 years, journalist Jane Hansen revelled in the grind of daily current
affairs television. She reported from some of the most dangerous places in the world and she
witnessed the pain and suffering of other people. But as a reporter she was always able to walk
away from it, until she was confronted by her own, critically ill child. This then, is Jane's
story.

JANE HANSEN: I was in it for the big stuff. When you got to strap yourself into the front seat of
history and to bear witness to that was an extraordinary privilege. This of course, is a song of
victory... Having grown up watching Jana, I wanted to be that, like many journalists of my
generation. It was a new frontier for women in a way, to get out there and to do the stuff that was
traditionally, you know, George Negus' area.

I'd reported on fear. I thought that I'd probably faced some fearful situations but that, you know,
previous life in war zones, that was a walk in the park compared to this, where a life just hung in
the balance.

(Excerpt from home video):

JANE HANSEN (holding baby's hand in incubator): Little Jack has to be strong enough to take breaths
of his own, more breaths of his own. He's only taking about 30 per cent of the breaths he's taking
on his own ...

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: I was not prepared for the war zone that my own baby would have to get through. In
this case I wasn't an impassive observer. I was right in amongst it. This was my heart in there.
This was my only child. And it's like my survival rested on his survival as well. He had a
minefield to get through in that first week. I had done a story on career women putting off their
child bearing 'til their late 30s and waiting 'til their fertility was on its last legs and I mean
that story obviously hit a chord with me because I was 36. I did fall pregnant pretty soon after
that.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: She was torn between her career and torn between the, wanting a wonderful
family, and it's a tough decision for women to make.

JANE HANSEN: I had an amniocentesis and I was the unlucky one in 200 that lost a perfectly healthy
baby as a result of that test and at 17 weeks my waters broke and the baby was delivered at 19
weeks and he had no chance. Growing up around Mullumbimby and Byron Bay, it was an incredibly
beautiful place to grow up. I was one of six children. I was just surrounded by babies in my early
teens. And when I left home, you know I really felt like I'd changed a million nappies already and
motherhood was the last thing on my mind.

ALI KOVACS, FRIEND: We had great ambitions that, at 18, that we knew everything and we were going
to go out and we were going to educate the world. We were both going to go and be famous
journalists.

JANE HANSEN: It was the 80s. I could get a university education, I could travel the world. If I
worked hard I could become a success in my chosen field. There didn't seem to be any obstacles. The
only obstacle that I could see was motherhood. Gerald Stone gave me my first big break as a
reporter on "Real Life". A few years after I moved over to "A Current Affair". Sure, they had some
silly stories but it was also a program that covered the big issues and they spent the money.

PETER MEAKIN, FORMER CHANNEL 9 NEWS DIRECTOR: It's a very hungry beast, commercial current affairs.
It takes no prisoners, and it doesn't brook failure. If you're actually in there 24 hours a day,
you live, eat and breathe it.

JANE HANSEN: People had said to me before I joined Channel 9, look it's a bit of a boy's club. It's
very blokey. I did notice that being a childless woman in my 30s, I was by no means alone.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: I don't believe it probably was a family friendly place. TV is a
dog-eat-dog world, you know, it's what the ratings are, ratings are the number one thing that's
important.

JANE HANSEN: I met Andrew on my first trip overseas to Aspen.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: Jane had something special, a real go-getter who wanted success and loved
making a difference.

JANE HANSEN: When we got married it coincided with a tragic event at work that affected me
terribly. It was a story about a television repair man, Benny Mendoza, apparently not doing the job
properly or overcharging.

(Excerpt from "A Current Affair" - August 1997)

JANE HANSEN: As you can see, this Kenwood CD player works but our technician Will Strauss
(phonetic) removes a simple, $1 fuse and replaces it with a blown fuse ...

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: The story was assigned to a producer and a researcher and when they had what they
thought was enough evidence, the story was assigned to a reporter and I walked in the door that
day.

(Excerpt from "A Current Affair" - August 1997):

BENNY MENDOZA: Yeah, we change it for sure.

JANE HANSEN: Well if they were changed, would there be evidence of soldering?

BENNY MENDOZA: Yeah, that's right, yep.

JANE HANSEN: Well there is absolutely no evidence of any soldering ...

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: So all weekend, it was promo'd and then the Monday night it was on and a few days
later, a producer walked in and said that this man had hung himself, and I was speechless. It still
really upsets me. It's been 10 years. I think what gutted me the most was that two children were
without a father and a wife was without a husband. I didn't feel as though I had a right to talk
about how I felt about the story because I wasn't the victim. In everyone's mind, I was the
perpetrator.

(Excerpt from "Media Watch", ABC TV- August 1997):

STUART LITTLEMORE: One sordid little entrapment too many and another unremarkable example of "A
Current Affair's" mindless succession of bullying righteousness, yields a result they will say they
never foresaw. A little man, caught by a cheap deception far worse than anything he was accused of
doing, despairs of ever living down the shame and takes his own life.

(End of excerpt)

PETER MEAKIN, FORMER CHANNEL 9 NEWS DIRECTOR: And you can understand the opprobrium that it
attracted because it is a big media organisation, with Kerry Packer at the top and one little
punter who's running a business, maybe he's cutting a few corners. But it seems like an unequal
contest.

(Excerpt from "A Current Affair" - August 1997, continued):

JANE HANSEN (to Benny Mendoza): We've been charged $159.

(End of excerpt)

PETER MEAKIN, FORMER CHANNEL 9 NEWS DIRECTOR: Jane Hansen's a thorough professional. You can blame
the program, you can hardly blame her. But this was a shocker, an absolute shocker.

JANE HANSEN: I was just doing my job and I know that's the Nuremberg defence but I wasn't in the
position to say, "Shove it, I don't think it's a good story." Which is how I felt anyway. I didn't
think it was a good story. It was my job and I wasn't in a position to be a prima donna.

(Excerpt from "Media Watch", ABC TV- August 1997, continued):

STUART LITTLEMORE: These unspeakable bastards did however deceive Mr Mendoza and then set him up
...

(End of excerpt)

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: She wasn't treated that kindly by the media. She was, you know, the media
can be a cruel, harsh place, as we all know, and I suppose like you can think about, well if you
give it out, you have to take it.

JANE HANSEN: You know, I had press camped out the front of my house as well demanding an apology
but you know, I wanted to apologise to Benny Mendoza's wife.

REVEREND DENIS SHELTON, MENDOZA FAMILY FRIEND: It was important for them as part of the process to
see one another. And so we ended up organising a meeting between them. And so I was there sort of
in a sense ah, acting I guess as a facilitator or a mediator or something of that kind.

JANE HANSEN: She talked about that day it happened and it was surreal to hear her pain and to know
that my role in it, and I held her hand, I cried and said, "I'm sorry". We said a prayer, but it
didn't bring him back.

REVEREND DENIS SHELTON, MENDOZA FAMILY FRIEND: It's not just a professional thing. It's not just
doing a story, it was actually something which impacted her personally. And in this case of course
it impacted her devastatingly.

JANE HANSEN: Two years down the track, I finally admitted that it was affecting me. I was waking up
in the middle of the night gasping for air, horrified at what had happened but I didn't feel as
though I could express it. So I did finally seek some counselling and the treatment did work to the
point where I could talk about it without bursting into tears and at that point, I think that's
when you start healing. But it's, that story was a nightmare then and it is still a nightmare.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: It took many years to heal, you know, she was sent to Iraq and I think she
was the only female journalist that did go to Baghdad at the time of the last Iraq war for
Australia, for TV.

JANE HANSEN: So at 39, I found myself pregnant again and just so protective of this baby. Nothing
was going to go wrong it this time. And I just knew that I couldn't go through another loss. But
little did I know that the second term loss of Thomas in 2002 had basically conspired to weaken my
cervix and it was like a time bomb. At 21 weeks things started to go wrong. I had to have a
surgical procedure - a stitch put in my cervix to keep the baby in. And my job of course from that
point on was to lie flat on my back until it was time for the baby to be born and I was only half
way through my pregnancy.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: Jane spent weeks and weeks of bed rest, lying on her back. But at 26 weeks
was when Jackson had to be born. It was a situation where, you know, our doctor advised us that
today's the day, we can't wait any longer, we're putting everybody at risk.

(Excerpt from home video, 13th December 2003):

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND (in hospital): Well here we are, I'm here with Jane and ...

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: Twenty-six weeks is really early and I think we were given 70 - 80 per cent chance.

(Excerpt continued):

JANE HANSEN: So, in about 20 minutes I'm going to go upstairs and have a caesarean and we're going
to have a baby and this little one's going to have to put up a fight ...

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: We decided we'd make a video for our baby to see, to watch when he grew up. Jackson
Nelson Fisher was 950 grams, just under one kilo. He was tiny.

A neonatal intensive care unit is a war zone in itself for a baby of that size.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: You know, I was so happy and proud that I had a baby boy that, you know, I
told everybody, and you know, I thought, well there's no way another son of mine's going to die,
you know, like I had one son die, but you know, this one, he'll be fighting, he'll be a fighter.

JANE HANSEN: Nobody warns you about the love you feel for your child when they're born and I found
it overwhelming and not only overwhelming, but when your child has, is sick and there's a
possibility that child can die, it's a really perilous, dangerous love that, oh, quivers throughout
every cell in your body.

(Excerpt from home video):

JANE HANSEN: Oh, there he goes, he has his little wiggle. I was here this morning when they took
the ventilator off and they put this contraption on called a C-pac which is continuous, positive
air pressure which forces Jackson's lungs to stay open ...

(End of excerpt)

DR HEATHER JEFFERY, NEONATOLOGIST: You're looking at a one in four risk of one or more infections.
And that's just what Jackson had, he had a number of infections. And they undoubtedly affected his
lungs.

(Excerpt continued):

JANE HANSEN: And we can see more of his face, and he's just beautiful.

(End of excerpt)

JANE HANSEN: Every drug that they want to give a child has its down side. I mean, we have to use
steroids to get Jackson off the ventilator and that might affect his mental capacity later on. That
might affect his brain development and you think, your choice is that or death. You have to go with
it.

(Excerpt continued):

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: Oh, he's grabbing hold of mummy's finger.

(End of excerpt)

DR HEATHER JEFFERY, NEONATOLOGIST: He was a very gutsy little baby. He was very responsive and the
nurses around him would say that, those who knew him well, they would say he had attitude. And he
did.

JANE HANSEN: When I finally got to hold Jackson, I finally felt like a normal mother. Abnormal
circumstance, but I felt like a normal mother. And it felt wonderful.

ALI KOVACS, FRIEND: To me she was like a lioness, she was very protective.

He had Jane's will. He had her determination. He had decided that he was going to stay and he was
going to fight the fight as Jane would want him to, fight the fight. He was his mother.

JANE HANSEN: He grew gram by gram and it was a huge deal when he cracked one kilo and then it was a
huge deal when he hit 1800 grams, just under two kilos and he could get out of the humidicrib and
into a cot. And so when he hit 100 days we had a big party and I just remember thinking, God, we
made it. Here we are. Who would have thought? And I just thought that he was a medical miracle. A
hundred and seventeen days after he was born, we got to take him home. And there were difficulties
with it because we had oxygen tanks upstairs and we had oxygen tanks downstairs and we had a
portable oxygen tank to take him for a walk. And he loved being at home. I loved being a normal
mum.

DR HEATHER JEFFERY, NEONATOLOGIST: Jane had noticed at home that he wasn't feeling as well, that is
the difficulty comes with feeding and breathing in this situation. It's difficult for a baby to do
both with lung, lung that is compromised.

JANE HANSEN: I remember rolling the camera on Jackson and talking that through, like I'm just
starting to understand the full implications of chronic lung disease and how badly Jackson's lungs
are affected. And I saw him almost choking and I just, I stopped the camera. The NETS transfer team
came and got him and within 24 hours he was fighting for his life. They tried to intubate Jackson
before he was fully sedated and he just freaked out. He had a pulmonary hypertension episode.
Before long they diagnosed Golden Staph, septicaemia. And so he was put into a drug-induced coma to
try and stabilise him and bombed with antibiotics.

ALI KOVACS, FRIEND: So Jackson would take, you know, a step forward, and one and a half baby steps
back. It was a very, very, you know, to use a cliché, roller coaster time.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: As you're walking in you're just hoping that you don't see too many people
milling around the room, you know, you want a nice, clear corridor, because that means that things
are nice and stable.

JANE HANSEN: Yeah, I mean, you go through what you have done to bring this upon your own child.
God's not answering your prayers. Is it karma? I rang Reverend Sheldon from the Mendoza story some
eight years prior and said, "My child's dying. Have I brought this upon myself?"

REVEREND DENIS SHELTON, MENDOZA FAMILY FRIEND: She really felt that God was reeking vengeance upon
her because of her part in the program which eventuated in the suicide of Benny Mendoza.

JANE HANSEN: And he said, "God doesn't think like that." Well God doesn't think like that, but our
minds do. Everyone that loses a child finds some way to blame themselves.

REVEREND JAN DONOHOO, HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN: She felt helpless and frightened, angry. So it's a pretty,
pretty powerless or impotent position to be in, but she was in there fighting.

JANE HANSEN: And we had this little gracious moment where he did stabilise and then he started to
slip again. I used to climb up on the bed and just try and live his life for him in his ears, say,
"I want to take you to the beach, I want to play with your bucket, and we'll buy you a puppy and
just dig a little deeper. I promise I'll make it up to you." And he would listen, blink his eyes.
Then I saw the colour draining from his legs and his arms and it was just happening in slow motion.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: I thought we were, were we being selfish trying to keep Jackson alive? You
know, he was going through all sorts of pain. His life was horrendous.

JANE HANSEN: We went and had the talk that you don't, a parent should never ever have to talk
about...

REVEREND JAN DONOHOO, HOSPITAL CHAPLAIN: And they chose to withdraw life support, so that they
could hold their child in their arms. It was terrible. And I remember the howl from Andrew.

JANE HANSEN: We were sat on the couch in a room and before I knew it he was in my arms. And I sang
to him. Andrew cried and I told him to shut up, don't cry yet, I don't want him to know that you're
scared. And I don't know how long it took, but I felt him leave. There's just this life force of a
giant, reluctantly leaving. Eight-and-a-half months old. He died.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: We had Thomas cremated as well as Jackson. We decided to go to a special
place, up in the mountains. We went to the highest point, up at the top of Thredbo.

JANE HANSEN: And Andrew said, "Well look, you know, I always wanted to take our sons skiing". And
we scattered the ashes and just stood up there, the most pathetic of creatures, childless parents,
with everything we'd hoped and dreamed for our children, snap frozen. Life as I knew it, the world
as I knew it was over. I wasn't the lucky girl any more. I know in the early days I just tried to
keep myself busy, you know, don't lie in bed thinking about it, get up, make a cup of tea, just put
one foot in front of the other. I found the grief life-threatening. You don't think it's possible
to survive it. The despair is that horrible and, yeah and relentless, relentless. I went back to
work five months after Jackson died and I steeled myself for people coming up and saying I'm sorry
for your loss. No one said anything. I mean I'd worked there for eight years, or nine years and,
everyone just pretended that this amazing little boy didn't exist, that this profound experience
hadn't happened. My inspiration for the book was that I felt that people were so uncomfortable
talking about the death of a child, that I thought, well if you're not going to let me talk about
it I'm going to write a book about it. When I found out I was pregnant again, my fourth pregnancy
in four years, and it was the only thing that held me together. It was hope, it was a future. It
was not lost on me that to get this last baby across the line I had to give up everything that I'd
worked for. The fact that I got to 38 and a half weeks was a miracle in itself.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: And then, you know, when actually Samuel was born, you know, he was a
bouncing baby boy, everything perfect, you know, and like, we couldn't be, two happier people
weren't, couldn't be living.

JANE HANSEN: And I just lay there crying, just all of a sudden understanding the nature of a broken
heart, that you could be happy and sad at the same time. Celebrate and mourn at the same time.
Bitter and sweet. And this nurse looked over at me and said, "Oh, it's emotional having a baby,
isn't it?" Yeah. Very emotional. And so as time goes on, people think, "Well, you've got a new baby
now, you know, get on with it, you'll be right". But you're not. You're living with the other
child. The other child doesn't just go away. You live with the ghost of the child that should have
been. Andrew took long service leave and we went up to Byron, up to where I grew up.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: I went surfing and I was trying to let the crap drip off my body, into the
water. And it helped immensely. And we loved it up here. You know, we lived as a family.

ALI KOVACS, FRIEND: I think the most joyous part of Jane now is watching her as a mother and she
takes none of it for granted because Jane's life, up until then, had been about how can Jane change
the world, what can Jane do? And I think she understands now that Jane has become part of something
bigger than herself.

JANE HANSEN: The stuff that I used to be ambitious about, you know that's, none of that matters any
more. I don't have that searing ambition that I used to have. It doesn't matter any more.

ANDREW FISHER, HUSBAND: Jane is more compassionate than she used to be, because she's seen the dark
side of the world.

JANE HANSEN: I thought I had empathy before. I thought I did, but I had no idea of the pain that
exists around the world, a mother's pain, well a father's too. To have been there and to have your
heart ripped open like that, or have a broken heart, but it's infinitely a better heart and a
bigger heart.