An investigation that raised questions over the cost and legitimacy of church death certificates won UTS’s Pamela Rontziokis the coveted Student Journalist of the Year award at the Mid-Year Walkleys last night.

The story, which the 4th-year dual journalism-law degree student began as a uni assessment, was championed by The Greek Herald and revealed bereaved families were being charged by the Greek Orthodox Church five times the amount of standard death certificates issued in Australia and Greece, even though they were not officially recognised.

Veronica Lennard, from University of Sydney, and Bhavya Vemulapalli, of Monash, were runners-up for the award, which is sponsored by the John B. Fairfax family.

Rontziokis is currently on holiday in South Africa, before heading to Tanzania to teach English during her semester break, and the award was accepted by her parents Con and Chrysoula and Greek Herald publisher Dimitra Skalkos, at a star-studded ceremony at Pier One Sydney on Walsh Bay.

My colleagues described it like that scene from Spotlight, when the phones wouldn’t stop ringing.

The 21-year-old from Roselands is the third UTS student in four years to win the Walkley, the most prestigious student journalism award in Australia. She was honoured with a Crikey Award for Investigative Journalism for the same story in December, and was also shortlisted in the Democracy’s Watchdogs Award.

“After this story was published, priests and community members bombarded the Greek Herald‘s telephone the next morning,” Rontziokis said. “My colleagues described it like that scene from Spotlight, when the phones wouldn’t stop ringing.

“Though it was on a smaller scale and a shock for Greek-Australian community members, people were upset — some not even surprised — but most importantly, people felt heard.

“Particularly unjust issues exist in multicultural communities in Australia, which are often left unchecked by mainstream media. This story revealed the jarring reality for Greek Australians: knowing this certificate is legally insignificant, but without it, they cannot bury their loved one.”

Rontziokis’ winning story combined extensive interviews with detailed data analysis to illustrate the issue clearly and thoroughly.


Pamela’s proud parents Con and Chrysoula accepted her award at Pier One Sydney on Thursday night. Photo: Central News.

Lecturer and Central News editor Martin Newman said Rontziokis exemplified the type of journalism being taught at UTS.

“It’s a big thing when students develop the news sense to recognise unacknowledged issues, sometimes ones staring people right in the face,” he said. “But to then have the tools to verify it and make your case in a way that everyone can understand very easily is another.

“Pamela’s story did all that, and it was underpinned with a variety of indisputable facts and comparisons that left no one who read it in any doubt that here was an issue affecting a lot of people.”

Main image by Central News.