Reporting Diversity
Case Study Four

The Cronulla riots – the sequence of events


Introduction - the daily coverage

The series of events that became knows as “the Cronulla riots” began in December 2005 with reports of the aftermath of the bashing of two volunteer lifesavers at Cronulla, a southern beachside suburb of Sydney. This followed ongoing tensions between Cronulla locals and visitors to the beach. On December 11, these tensions flared into what have been widely described as race riots, with violent confrontations between predominantly Anglo-European “Aussies” and predominantly Muslim “Lebs”.

The Cronulla riots sparked a wave of claims and counter-claims about responsibility for the violence and, more broadly, about the nature of race relations in Australia. Cronulla locals displayed varying responses, with some claiming that it was “about time” and that the riots were about “respect and pride” by white Australians; while others expressed shame and fear. Some differentiated between those involved in the rioting and the Lebanese community more generally. This range of responses reflected a similar scope of reactions from the community more generally.

Media coverage of the riots and their aftermath extended well beyond news reporting of events, encompassing a wide range of opinions from community and political leaders – including Government ministers and representatives of Muslim organisations – as well as numerous Letters to the Editor. The events and issues were reported extensively in the three newspapers, and the reportage presented a broad range of angles and perspectives.

The reporting period examined began on December 11, the day of the riots, when the Sunday Daily Telegraph carried two brief reports on page 4. These articles concerned the aftermath of the bashing of two volunteer lifesavers the previous weekend. The articles made no reference to allegations that the bashings were committed by a group of young men of “Middle Eastern appearance”. One article referred to Muslim leaders, police and politicians pleading “with ethnic gangs and local youths” not to engage in confrontations or retaliatory attacks at the beach. The other referred to the increased police presence, intended to deter “expected trouble between Middle-Eastern youth and local vigilantes”. “Islamic youth leader” Fadi Rahmen told the paper that the Muslim community was opposed to violence and that while the beach had been popular with families for many years, many were now too frightened to visit because of the threat of abuse. Surfers and beachgoers provided the local response, emphasising that while they were proud to see and display Australian emblems, it was as a gesture of solidarity and not intended to be provocative. They also reported that confrontations between locals and visitors were nothing new: “It’s been going on for so long now, mainly between nationalities.” One stated that bashing lifesavers was “not the Australian way” and another said locals “resented large groups of visitors from the western suburbs because they trashed the beach and intimidated local women”.

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