Journalists in Australia need to report news in a fair and objective manner since their behaviours and beliefs influence public opinion. Media inciting violence and inaccurate portrayals of certain groups encourages xenophobic behaviours and reinforces stereotypes that are already established leading to intercommunal conflict.
Living in a multicultural society, the media plays a pivotal role in race relations and helps shape the way we view different cultures. Although we celebrate diversity, migrant communities and asylum seekers still fall victim to vicious racial vilification and discrimination in mainstream media.
Cronulla Riots and Radio 2GB
The notorious 2005 Cronulla Riots in Sydney is one of Australia’s worst ethnic tensions and this incident was an example of the media taking part in inciting violence. On December 4, two Cronulla beach life savers were attacked by a group of Lebanese men. In response, locals circulated text messages to organise a mass gathering on Cronulla Beach to reclaim their beaches and to fight for Australian pride. Around 5000 Australians, most of them of Anglo and Celtic descent, arrived. The crowd turned into a violent mob, riots occurred a week after the attacks and people of Middle-Eastern descent (or ‘Middle-Eastern’ appearance) were targeted.
Between 5-9 December, one week before the riots, Sydney Talkback Radio 2GB host Alan Jones took part in slurring people of Middle-Eastern descent. While presenting his Breakfast with Alan Jones program, many callers rang Jones to vent their revulsion towards Middle-Easterners while Jones was encouraging them. One caller said “Get these blokes a bit of rifle butt in the face and they’ll, they’ll back off, they’re cowards!” Jones then replied; “Well if it gets to that we might have to do that, you follow what I’m saying?”
Jones also said “What kind of grubs? Well, I’ll tell you what kind of grubs this lot were. This lot were Middle-Eastern grubs. And you’re not allowed to say it but I’m saying it…” For more information on more of Jones’ comments, please click here.
In 2007, ACMA (Australian Communications Media Authority) launched an investigation into Jones’ broadcasts and produced an Investigative Report that found Jones’ comments “likely to encourage violence or brutality and to vilify people of Lebanese and Middle-Eastern backgrounds on the basis of ethnicity”. Thus the station and Jones were guilty of breaching their industry’s Code of Practice in encouraging hostility towards people of Middle-Eastern background.
Andrew Bolt’s Article on “Fair Skinned Indigenous Australians”
Andrew Bolt is a well-known columnist for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun and he is infamous for his obnoxious commentaries. In 2009, Bolt published an article claiming that “fair skinned Indigenous Australians” exploit their Indigenous heritage for their personal, professional and financial gain. He wrote ”white Aborigines” were ”people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that’s contributed least to their looks”. Before this, Bolt had published similar references such as “it’s so hip to be black” and “white fellas in the black”. Bolt, Herald Sun and Herald Sun’s publisher, Weekly Times, were sued by nine high profiled Indigenous Australians who testified they were offended and hurt by the comments. Subsequently, The Herald Sun and Bolt were accused of breaching racial vilification laws and in 2011, Bolt was found guilty of breaching Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The Footy Show
Even entertainment television programs have had breached racial vilification laws before. In 2009, Sam Newman the host of the popular AFL (Australian Football League) television program The Footy Show called a Malaysian man a “monkey” and “not long out of the forest”. ACMA launched an investigation and in 2010, Channel Nine was found guilty of breaching Section 1.8.6 of the Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice 2004 and Channel Nine was put on a $200,000 bond. Despite this penalty, Newman remained defiant, stating that he wouldn’t change.
Asylum Seekers Coverage
Asylum seekers are also victims of unprofessional journalism. In 2010, a boat carrying asylum seekers had sunk at Christmas Island and Radio 2GB hosted a quiz for callers to guess the number of deaths. A caller guessed 12 and the presenter Chris Smith zestfully exclaimed “12 is spot on!” and he rewarded the caller a book, movie pass and a DVD.
Earlier this year, men’s magazine Zoo issued a search for ‘Australia’s Hottest Asylum-Seeker’. The advertisement read ‘Are you a refugee not even the Immigration Minister could refuse? Then we want to see you!’ and “We’re looking for Oz’s hottest asylum seeker, so if you’ve swapped persecution for sexiness, we want to shoot you (with a camera – relax!)”. This triggered a public outcry; an online petition was started and gathered a total of 6,807 signatures calling for Zoo Magazine to apologise. As a result, Zoo Magazine published an apology.
CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) groups are often vulnerable to racist and negative portrayals in the media because many of them lack the capacity and resource to fight in legal battles against large media outlets. Limited CALD people in mainstream media, whether as journalists, editors, media personalities or board members of large media outlets also contribute to lack of representation and opportunities for CALD members to have a stronger public voice in society.
Journalists such as Andrew Bolt, who had been taken to court with a defamation case before the litigation case with the “fair-skinned Indigenous Australia” blog post, is still able to work as a journalist. Secondly, although Sam Newman was found guilty of breaching racial vilification laws, he remains unrepentant and still continues to host The Footy Show. Their ability to continue to work in media shows that media laws and authorities in Australia need to be revised and reconsider to ensure that the rights of minority communities are protected.
It is important that we have journalists and media personalities to report and present in a fair and objective manner. If media personalities and journalists have committed severe defamation against certain communities, media authorities should command more power to revoke their journalism licenses or working in the media. Many people look up to them as role models, and their behaviours and beliefs influence many people. The media’s portrayal of migrant and Indigenous communities plays a key role in influencing our understanding of different cultural, linguistic and religious groups. A media which incites violence and inaccurate portrayals of certain groups encourages xenophobic behaviours and reinforces stereotypes that are already established, which will cause more rifts between different communities. One article on a newspaper or a broadcast on radio and television can make a significant difference in the image of people.
As racism happens in Australian media, there are bigger questions we need to reflect. Is racism deep-rooted in our society? Do we really accept people who come from different cultural, religious and linguistic backgrounds? And based on how asylum seekers are portrayed and degraded, is there an underlying fear of newcomers?
Photo Credit: Newton grafitti