Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres
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”.