Reporting Diversity
Case Study Two

Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres


Newcastle – critical incidents

2. Anti- rally & respondent pro- gatherings - January 22, 2005

Articles

  • 34 articles from January 19-29, 2005 (source: Newsbank, December 12, 2005)
  • 25 articles in Newcastle Herald
  • 4 AAP Newswire stories
  • 3 articles in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph
  • 1 article in Sydney’s Sun Herald
  • 1 article in Townsville Bulletin

Descriptive language

The Newcastle Herald generally avoided terms such as “racist” and “race hate” to describe the activities of the Concerned Citizens Collective (CCC) and the Patriotic Youth League (PYL). The articles instead referred to “anti-immigration” activists, groups or activities targeting the Sudanese community within Newcastle.

The article that broke the story (January 19, “Group link to racist leaflet drop”) was the only one to use the term “race hate campaign” and make references to “racist” activities in the descriptive content of the article. It also referred to the CCC as a “right-wing political group”. The remaining articles (January 20-29) used the term “anti-immigration” to refer to the CCC and its activities. Where these articles used the terms “racist” and “race hate”, it was only to quote or paraphrase statements made by those opposing and condemning the CCC’s activities, including government ministers. One article referred to “anti-Sudanese sentiment” (January 20, “Police alarm over meeting …”). One opinion piece referred to “hatred” and “hate-mongers”, but made only implicit reference to the CCC (January 21, “The gift of refuge”). Another opinion piece referred to the “minority … opposed to multiculturalism” as a “bunch of tossers” (January 25, “Concerned citizens cause concern among citizens”).

The activities of those opposing the CCC campaign were generally referred to as “pro-Sudanese” and “anti-racism”. One article referred to “left-wing activists and supporters” to describe a contingent of the opposing group (January 24, “Support vow for Sudanese”).

The remaining sources (AAP Newswire, Daily Telegraph and Townsville Bulletin) used the terms “racist”, “race hate” and “right-wing” to describe the Concerned Citizens’ Collective and its activities. The Herald Sun used the term “anti-immigration”.

Image of Newcastle Sudanese community

The Newcastle Herald built a sympathetic picture of the Sudanese community over the reported period. By referring to the CCC’s targeting of the Sudanese community as a “racist” campaign in the breaking story, the community was immediately established as victims deserving of sympathy. By making reference to previous activities by the CCC, the racist and incendiary nature of the group and the affiliated Patriotic Youth League were firmly established from the outset.

The second article referred to allegations levelled at the Sudanese community by the CCC, which were refuted by police. In further articles the police repeatedly refuted allegations of gang activity among Sudanese youth made by the CCC, with the implication such allegations were an overreaction to teenage rebellion.

By January 21, some articles had begun describing the experiences of the Sudanese refugees and the conflict which had displaced them. In one article – the first of a series in which the voices of Sudanese refugees were presented – a refugee described his life before and after his arrival in Newcastle. A January 22 article provided the first statement by Simon Parbek, whose opinion was repeatedly sought by the media as spokesperson for the Sudanese community. By this point, community leaders were speaking out in support of the Sudanese community, and the director of the Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) was making statements about the successful integration of the refugees into the community and the acceptance shown by the Newcastle community generally. On January 22, statements by NSW and federal ministers condemning the CCC campaign were reported.

Following successful pro-refugee events on January 22, and the minimal support garnered by the anti- protest, the depiction of the Sudanese community became even more sympathetic, and the community of Newcastle was repeatedly lauded for its acceptance of the refugees.

On January 29, a long article in the weekend edition of the Newcastle Herald gave an overview of the recent events and contextualised the issues nationally and globally. This article described the historical background to the refugee flows out of Sudan and contextualised the difficulties some of the Sudanese refugees had experienced in adapting to life in Newcastle. It also described the changing cultural demographics of both Australia and Newcastle, touching upon the role of migrants in maintaining economic growth.

Sudanese voices

Two members of the Sudanese community (one male, one female) were interviewed, and their experiences reported in three articles (January 20, 24 and 25). These appeared on the same page as descriptive articles reporting on the anti- and pro- activities within the Newcastle community. They appeared to be direct attempts to humanise the refugees through naming and speech. They were sympathetic portrayals, referring explicitly to the hardships experienced and the refugees’ desire to lead a normal life and be accepted in their new community. Experiences of Sudanese refugees more generally were described in a further eight articles. Eight articles also reported on the responses and views of the Sudanese community, usually presented by community spokesperson Simon Parbek or the director of the MRC, Violetta Walsh. Both of these spokespeople referred numerous times to the contributions being made by the Sudanese refugees and their desire to become part of the Newcastle community.

Letters to the editor

Four letters referring to the Sudanese community were published over the reporting period. Two letters were written by (male) Novocastrian church leaders and two by Novocastrian women. All the letters stated their support for the refugees and condemned the CCC’s campaign. One refuted the allegations made by the CCC against the Sudanese community, while another referred to positive experiences of working with the Sudanese refugees.

Opinion pieces

The first opinion piece appeared in the Newcastle Herald on January 21 (“The gift of refuge”). It was a mild condemnation of the anti-immigrant sentiment, but focused mainly on describing the historical background of Africa and Sudan to provide some context. It called upon those who were attempting to rally sentiment against the refugees to consider what the refugees had experienced before arriving in Australia. It pointed out that it was to be expected that such traumatised people would have some difficulty adapting to their new lives in Newcastle. It was a sympathetic but measured piece which attempted to place the Novacastrian incident into a wider context.

The second piece followed on January 25, by which point the sympathies of the Newcastle Herald and most Novocastrians were firmly established as lying with the Sudanese community. It described the acceptance and welcome displayed by those participating in the pro-refugee events, contrasting this with the minimal support garnered by the CCC rally. It also related the experiences of one Sudanese woman and her happiness with her new life in Newcastle. This was a congratulatory piece, displaying pride in the supportive response demonstrated by the Newcastle community in the face of the CCC’s allegations and activities. Another opinion piece was published in the same edition, in the Orbit section, which is aimed at younger readers (the Newcastle Herald website describes Orbit as “designed for the Playstation generation, sending sms messages with one hand, dialing up music from an ipod with the other”). The CCC and PYL were mildly ridiculed through the contrasting of their tiny number of supporters with those who turned out to support the refugees. This piece described the CCC and their supporters as a small “unrepresentative bunch of tossers” who need not be taken seriously as a threat to the supportive, multicultural majority of Newcastle.

The final opinion piece was a long article published on January 26 and written by the 2004 winner of the City of Newcastle Medal. This piece touched on the experiences of the Sudanese refugees, but focused on the practical support offered by “ordinary” Novocastrians to the Sudanese community. It also contextualised the anti-immigrant sentiment, noting the cyclic nature of such debates. This piece called on Novocastrians to demonstrate their support in practical ways and to undermine the objections of the minority by forging friendships with those newly arrived to Newcastle.

CCC material

A large number of articles published quotes from CCC materials. The quotation “Humanitarian aid for locals, not Sudanese gangbangers” was published four times by three media outlets (AAP News two days running, Daily Telegraph and Townsville Bulletin) but not by the Newcastle Herald. The Herald was the only outlet to publish other quotations from the CCC materials. On January 19, an article quoted from the materials, calling for an “isolationist policy rather than letting them [Sudanese] run riot in our neighbourhoods…”. On January 20, police refuted allegations in the materials that “Sudanese teenagers now roam the streets in … gangs copying the African-American gang culture” and that “regular gang attacks now occur … putting a dampener on the night life of locals”. The same materials stated that the CCC supported “isolated asylum” for Sudanese refugees as “Novocastrians will not be dictated to by refugee advocate loonies, universities or the council”. In a January 21 article, the PYL released a media statement that it would cancel the proposed CCC rally (which still went ahead) in the light of growing opposition “to keep our suburbs free of violence, freaks and loonies”.

Following the small CCC rally on January 22, Jim Saleam, a prominent anti-immigration activist, was quoted in two articles, and mentioned in others. In a Sun Herald article on January 23, Dr Saleam blamed the small turnout on Newcastle’s mayor, claiming he made a “threat that he would bring a large crowd of people to ensure that this meeting did not take place” and consequently people stayed away in fear of “mob action” if “the ferals and Trotskyites got loose …”. Dr Saleam repeated these accusations in the Newcastle Herald in a January 24 article.

Image of Concerned Citizens Collective

Over a series of articles the Newcastle Herald conveyed a sense of ineptitude and paranoia in their depictions of the CCC and PYL. By linking the CCC to the PYL in the first report, and describing a racist incident at Newcastle University involving PYL members, the CCC was initially depicted as potentially dangerous and overtly racist. This was contrasted with the majority Newcastle community, described as “compassionate and welcoming” by the MRC director. Allegations made by the CCC against members of the Sudanese community were repeatedly refuted by police and denied by church leaders and others working within the community. The continuous reporting of these unsubstantiated allegations implied that the CCC was fabricating and exaggerating problems to advance its own racist agenda.

The CCC attempted to soften its image by stating that “the situation in Sudan is abhorrent” and that it rejected “hatred of people simply because they are of a different race”. Instead, it restated its aims of slowing the threat immigration posed to the Australian economy and maintaining the isolation of refugee groups from the wider community. In a series of articles published from January 20-24, the CCC laid the blame for “refugee problems” on “refugee advocate loonies”, universities, the local council, “freaks and loonies”, governments, the business community and “feral bands of refugee supporters”. They also accused Newcastle’s mayor of “intimidating people from attending” the CCC rally to explain the very small number of attendees.

On the day of the rally, one article reported on statements published on the PYL website, asserting that “patriotic activists” from around Australia were arriving in Newcastle “to defend free speech and help Newcastle locals in their fight for freedom and local democracy”. Following the rally, which the PYL website proclaimed a “shining success”, as reported on January 25, numerous articles referred to the miniscule turn-out at the CCC rally and compared it with the much larger numbers of Novocastrians who attended the pro-refugee events.

A January 24 article revealed that Dr Saleam, a prominent anti-immigration activist making public statements for the CCC, was himself the son of a Greek immigrant, highlighting the hypocrisy of the CCC’s activities. A second CCC member was also a focus of the media reporting – Stuart McBeth, founder of the PYL. In early reports, Mr McBeth refused to comment to the media about either the PYL or the CCC but provided statements to the media reiterating the groups’ stance. Four days after the rally, the Herald reported that Mr McBeth’s employment with the Salvation Army was being reconsidered in the light of his involvement with the CCC and his organisational role in the rally. The January 26 article also revealed that Mr McBeth had been suspended from his work in 2004 for his role in the PYL campaign against foreign students at Newcastle University. An article on January 28 reported that Mr McBeth’s employment with the Salvation Army had been terminated, as his activities were in direct conflict with the organisation’s ethos. Both articles noted that Mr McBeth had failed to comment to the Newcastle Herald despite repeated requests.

Over the course of the reporting, the CCC, initially viewed as a possible threat, was instead portrayed as an inept, hypocritical and somewhat hysterical group, out of touch with the majority of both the Newcastle and Australian communities.

Headlines

Only the first of the articles in the Newcastle Herald used the term “racist” in the headline. Other headlines referred to the “immigration debate” or “anti-immigration” rally, while a number referred to community support for the Sudanese refugees. Four articles contained “Sudan” or “Sudanese” in the headline, while six headlines referred to the difficult transition between life in Sudan and in Newcastle.

Coverage outside Newcastle

The AAP Newswire published two substantial reports on the incident, on January 20 and 21. The first reported on the CCC campaign and the proposed rally, including a quote from anti-immigration activist Jim Saleam. It also quoted Erin Killion, an organiser of one of the pro-refugee gatherings, asserting that the majority of Novocastrians supported the Sudanese community. Ms Killion did not appear in any of the Newcastle Herald articles. The article reported on the links between the CCC and the PYL, and referred to the incident at Newcastle University in 2004. The second article reported on the NSW Government’s condemnation of the CCC campaign, including the Justice Minister’s intention to monitor the group closely. This article also made the only reference to Dr Saleam’s 1991 jail sentence for his involvement in an attack on an African National Congress representative living in Australia.

The Daily Telegraph provided the most substantial coverage outside Newcastle. A January 21 article reported on the CCC campaign and the counter-campaign by pro-refugee activists. It also reported that police had rejected the allegations made by the CCC against the Sudanese community. A very brief article on January 22 reported that the NSW Government had condemned the CCC campaign and that the Justice Minister had ordered the group be closely monitored. The final article, on January 28, provided extensive coverage of the anti- and pro- campaigns, but focused on the dismissal of Stuart McBeth from his employment with the Salvation Army. It also reported that the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had warned the CCC that their activities might breach the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Sun Herald published a substantial report on January 23, referring to the small CCC rally and the larger pro-refugee gatherings. It quoted the contrasting opinions of the Newcastle mayor, Sudanese spokesperson Simon Parbek and anti-immigration activist Jim Saleam. The Townsville Bulletin published a brief report on January 21 referring to the CCC campaign, but it made no mention of the proposed rally.

Other issues

During the reporting period, only two Newcastle Herald articles referring to the Sudanese community were not related to the critical incident. The first was a brief sport story on January 28, reporting on an upcoming exhibition basketball game between members of Newcastle’s Sudanese community. The second article was a January 29 report on a police investigation into an alleged sexual assault by Sudanese youths. The report made no reference to the ethnic or cultural origins of the victims. It noted that Jim Saleam had referred to the alleged assault at the CCC rally on January 22. This report was located on page 6 of the edition, alongside two analytical pieces, one referring to the critical incident and the other to experiences of Sudanese teenagers attending a Newcastle high school.

Image of Newcastle community

The articles over the reporting period portrayed the majority of the Newcastle community as being accepting and supportive of the Sudanese community. In the first report (January 19), the MRC director described the CCC campaign as reflecting only a “small sub-set” within the community, stating that Newcastle had been “extremely compassionate and welcoming” toward the refugees. This set the tone for the following reports, in which the majority Newcastle community was repeatedly described as supportive and inclusive. On January 20, the Herald first reported the proposed pro-refugee gatherings being organised in opposition to the CCC rally, followed by a January 21 report providing explicit details. The report stated that Newcastle’s mayor would be speaking at the “Newcastle Welcome Town” gathering organised by the MRC, while the second gathering was described as a “refugees are welcome, racists are not” demonstration. The time and location for each gathering was reported in the article but only the location of the CCC rally was given. This article was entitled “Community rallies behind Sudanese”.

Following the January 22 rallies, the Herald reported on the substantial turnout at both of the pro-refugee gatherings. Three articles referred to the applause and random hugging bestowed on a group of Sudanese people who arrived at the first gathering to express their thanks. These articles congratulated the Newcastle community for its demonstrations of support and welcome, asserting that this was the true face of Newcastle. The tiny number of supporters who gathered at the CCC rally were dismissed as being out of touch with the views and actions of the majority.

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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