Reporting Diversity
Case Study Two

Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres


Introduction

News coverage of events outside Australia’s capital cities often reflects different values and attitudes. This is sometimes the case with regard to immigrant communities, particularly when many members of those communities have recently arrived in Australia. Only in the past five years or so have significant numbers of Sudanese people arrived here and, indeed, they are one of the few groups classified as “new and emerging” by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Many Sudanese people have moved away from the capital cities to settle in such provincial centres as Newcastle, NSW, and Toowoomba, Queensland.

Located in the Hunter Valley, 160km north of Sydney, Newcastle is Australia’s largest provincial city, with a population of about 500,000. The major local newspaper is The Herald (formerly The Newcastle Herald), which has an ABC audited circulation of 55,000+ (Monday to Friday) and 85,000+ on Saturdays. Toowoomba, 132km west of Brisbane in south-east Queensland, has a population of 113,687 (2003 ABS estimate) and is Australia’s second-largest inland city. The local newspaper, The Toowomba Chronicle, is published six days a week, and has an audited circulation of 24,100 Monday to Friday and 32,700 on Saturdays.

Newspaper coverage of three incidents involving members of the Sudanese community in each city was examined. All of the papers examined published material which was sympathetic to the Sudanese communities and portrayed local Sudanese individuals in a positive light. Predictably, the local papers were more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to describe their own communities as culturally and racially harmonious. However, the analysis indicated that the language used in some of the reports in the Toowoomba newspaper was more blunt than similar reports elsewhere. An example of this was provided by the Chronicle’s decision to quote directly some of the offensive language expressed in material published by racist groups.

Attempting to determine the reasons for this was beyond the scope of this project. However, it is possible to speculate that part of the explanation lies in the different demographics of the two cities. Newcastle has a more racially and culturally diverse population than Toowoomba, and it may be that newspaper editors and journalists in that city are more likely to favour caution in reporting such views directly because of a fear of offending – and thus possibly losing – readers. It could also be the case that, as Newcastle is a relatively short drive away from Australia’s most multicultural city – Sydney – it is more likely to be influenced by “big city” values than Toowoomba.

Being more geographically isolated than Newcastle, Toowoomba’s citizens may tend to be less influenced by liberal attitudes to minorities.

The analysis conducted for this case study raises a question which is central to journalism practice – how to report views which are likely to be considered offensive to many readers without losing those readers in the future, and without giving those views further airing. While directly quoting such views can be defended by journalists as a means of “telling it like it is”, such quoting not only further publicises those views but can also give an impression that both the journalist and the publication tacitly sympathise with the views being expressed.

The final issue raised by this case study is media use of the term “community”. It is understandable that, for practical reasons such as the pressures of time and space and to avoid confusing readers, journalists need to employ relatively simple terms in relatively straightforward ways. However, the notion of “community” is far more complex than indicated in any of the reports examined here. Any group of more than a few people will invariably consist of a number of “communities”, yet the Sudanese population in each city is consistently described simply as “the Sudanese community”.

Top

Member : Murdoch UniversityMember: Griffith UniversityMember: University of South AustraliaMember: Media MonitorsMember: SBSMember: University of CanberraMember: Journalism Education AssociationMember: University of Western Sydney
Department of Immigration and Citizenship