Reporting Diversity
Case Study Two

Reporting on immigrant communities
– Sudanese immigrants in two regional centres


Toowoomba – critical incidents

1. Letterbox campaign - July 2005

During this period, nine articles were published by two news outlets. The Toowoomba Chronicle published six articles, including one editorial. Four reports, and the editorial, directly addressed the letterbox campaign by the White Pride Coalition. This campaign was reported by The Australian in three articles. Shortly after the reporting period, follow-up reports were published in the Chronicle and the Brisbane Sunday Mail.

The first report on the letterbox campaign was published in The Toowoomba Chronicle on July 12, 2005. This article, entitled “Racial hatred, direct to you”, reported that “extreme right-wing racist propaganda” was being circulated in the city. It published a picture of a White Pride Coalition Australia (WPCA) pamphlet being circulated, and included a quote outlining the group’s aims, taken from its website. The opposing view was represented by Mark Copland, from the Social Justice Commission (SCJ) of the Catholic Diocese, who asserted that “the sentiments of this lunatic fringe have little sway with the broader Toowoomba community”. Dan Toombs, a lawyer and SJC member, stated that the material being distributed contravened the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act, and the article implied that the SJC was considering legal action. Mr Copland reported that in 2004 an African refugee family had been the target of a “strategic” letterbox campaign, and had moved out of their home, fearing for their safety. There was no specific mention of the Sudanese community in Toowoomba.

The July 12 editorial addressed the WPCA campaign, but made no mention of the Sudanese community or any refugee communities in Toowoomba. The editorial focused on the importance of countering “these repugnant views” by “embracing the positives of tolerance and multiculturalism”. It referred to the success of Rockhampton’s multicultural fair, and called for “a greater celebration of multiculturalism” in Toowoomba. It was a measured piece that was relatively mild in its condemnation of the WPCA campaign, focusing instead on fostering positive attitudes within the community.

On July 14, the Chronicle published a page 1 article entitled “Net closes on racists”, which reported on the search for identifying information about the people behind the WPCA campaign. This report focused on the activity of the Sydney-based campaign group Fight Dem Back!, describing its online surveillance of neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups and extensively quoting campaign co-ordinator Mat Henderson-Hau. He revealed that the group had traced the WPCA campaign to a resident of Crow’s Nest, a township about 45km north-east of Toowoomba. The article also included one paragraph outlining the reactions of SCJ members Copland and Toombs, and the possibility of legal action. There was no mention of who was being targeted by the WPCA campaign, nor of the Sudanese, African or refugee communities in Toowoomba.

The following day, July 15, the Chronicle reported that Mr Copland had lodged a complaint with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) about the campaign material distributed by the WPCA. Mr Copland reiterated that the campaign did not represent the majority views of Toowoomba residents, stating that “we’re proud we’ve got diversity and we support it”. The article also reported that Fight Dem Back! had found that the man believed to be behind the WPCA campaign was planning a meeting in Crow’s Nest the next day. Local police had no knowledge of the meeting, but asked for information from the public. The president of the Crow’s Nest RSL, which was reported to have some link with the WPCA campaigner, asserted that “there is no room in our organisation for that type of rot”. The previously reported views of Dan Toombs, Mark Copland and Mat Henderson-Hau were paraphrased. There was no mention of any community being targeted by the campaign.

The last article directly addressing the WPCA campaign was published on July 16. It reported that Crow’s Nest police had not received any call about a planned WPCA meeting in the area, and provided a summary of the Chronicle’s reports over the previous week. The only new information included was that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry had been informed about the anti-Semitic nature of the WPCA material, and was “examining its options”. It quoted Mr Copland and paraphrased Mr Henderson-Hau. The article also quoted the WPCA campaign material, but no mention was made of who was being targeted by the campaign.

The final Chronicle article in the reporting period, published on July 18, was a positive piece about a multicultural lawn bowls event in Toowoomba. The article opened with a reference to “… troubling rumours of white supremacists at work in the community…” It reported that Aboriginal elder Jim Hagen had organised the event to bring together people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Mr Hagen was quoted at length, opining that: “Toowoomba has its social justice problems but we have to accept that our population is multicultural.” A Singaporean student from the University of Southern Queensland was interviewed and quoted, as was a visiting Turkish academic. A young Sudanese man was also interviewed, but his contribution was paraphrased. The article mentioned that many of the people taking part in the lawn bowls event were from Toowoomba’s Aboriginal and Sudanese communities. The photograph included with the article showed an elderly white man demonstrating the game to a group of young African men.

On July 23, two page 6 articles in the Weekend Australian reported on the WPCA campaign in Toowoomba. The first article, entitled “Refugees from Africa focus of hate campaign”, reported that the WPCA had established a “cell” in Toowoomba. It noted that a substantial number of Sudanese refugees had been settled in the city and reported that one family had been forced from their home, while others had been assaulted with rotten food and subjected to regular verbal abuse. Mark Copland and Sudanese community leader Angelo Geng both described harassment and assault of refugees in Toowoomba, while Mat Henderson-Hau was reported as saying the racist campaign had also targeted African refugees in western Sydney. Mr Geng said the “Toowoomba community was overwhelmingly supportive” and the negative experiences were generated by a minority. The SCJ complaint to HREOC was mentioned, and it was noted that the WPCA could not be contacted for comment. The article also reported on the controversial views of Macquarie University law professor Andrew Fraser, which were paraphrased in the article. Professor Fraser was quoted, alongside Patriotic Youth League (PYL) spokesman Luke Connor. The article included a short paragraph outlining the number of African and Sudanese refugees being resettled in Australia, and briefly described the conflict which is displacing the Sudanese population.

The second Australian article was a humanising piece presenting the story of one Sudanese man living in Toowoomba. Daniel Abot related the story of his flight from southern Sudan and the experiences of his family in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. He said most of Toowoomba’s residents were welcoming and the harassment was nothing “when you [have] lived like we have”. The director of Anglicare Toowoomba, Daniel’s employer, discussed the difficulties refugees face finding work, stating that it “is especially hard in a town like this”. (A similar humanising piece was published in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on July 27. This article reported on a job-training scheme targeting refugees and presented the story of a young Sudanese man living and working in Toowoomba. It made no reference to the WPCA campaign.)

The third Australian article was published on July 23. It extensively quoted WPCA spokesman Terry Davis as he revealed the group’s intention to extend its campaign to other parts of the country. Toowoomba’s mayor, Di Thorley, was quoted refuting WPCA assertions that African refugees posed a crime risk in their new communities, and assuring Sudanese refugees that “they are welcome in our city”. The complaint lodged with HREOC was mentioned, as was the furore over the comments by Andrew Fraser.

White Pride Coalition Australia

The Toowoomba Chronicle published direct quotes from WPCA material in two reports, on July 12 and 16. The first article quoted the group’s website, stating that its aim is to “… combat the lies and bring down the Jewish/Zionist Government … and restore Whites to the positions of power that they are rightfully entitled to”. It also published a picture from WPCA material of a blonde white woman framed by the words: “The World’s most beautiful endangered species! White People.” This pamphlet was also described in the July 16 article. Two of the three articles published by The Australian included quotes from WPCA material. The first article quoted the pamphlet describing “white women as the ‘world’s most endangered species’”. This report also quoted a PYL spokesman stating that “the fact is that the Africans have a culture of tribalism and violence that we don’t want”. The second article published numerous quotes from the WPCA spokesman, including his assertion that “when you get crime in these areas, you know it’s going to be the blacks”. He reported being pleased that “our Queensland branch has been rather active”, but denied members’ involvement in physical attacks on refugees. He explained that frustration was behind these attacks, stating: “We’ll be seeing a lot more of this. It’s frustrating when your television is stolen or your daughter is raped.”

Toowoomba Community

Only two articles, both published by The Australian on July 23, presented views from members of the Sudanese community in Toowoomba. Both men interviewed stated that the WPCA campaign had been perpetrated by a minority and that most of Toowoomba’s residents had been helpful and supportive toward the Sudanese community. Only one article in The Toowoomba Chronicle, published on July 18, specifically referred to Toowoomba’s Sudanese community, in the story about the multicultural lawn bowls event. This was the only Chronicle article to present the voice of a Sudanese resident, but it focused only on his lawn bowls experience. This piece also referred to Toowoomba’s Aboriginal community and international staff and students at Toowoomba’s USQ campus. None of the four articles reporting on the WPCA campaign referred directly to the Sudanese community, and only the first report mentioned the African refugee community in Toowoomba. Assurances that Toowoomba is supportive of a culturally diverse community were given in three of the six articles published by the Chronicle, and all three articles published by The Australian.

Descriptive language

The four Chronicle articles that covered the WPCA campaign used the terms “racists”, “race hate” or “racial hatred” in their descriptive content. All of the articles included racism references in the headlines. The initial report described the WPCA material as “extreme right-wing racist propaganda”, and the remaining articles referred to the group as “white supremacists”. Three of the articles referred to possible breaches of racial vilification laws, while the multicultural lawn bowls piece referred to “troubling rumours of white supremacists”. The editorial did not directly focus on racism, instead referring to the “repugnant views” of the WPCA. It focused on positive descriptions of multiculturalism and racial diversity.

The Australian referred to “racism” or “race hate” in two of its headlines. The first headline mentioned a “hate campaign” against African refugees. The WPCA was described as “right-wing extremists” and “neo-Nazis”. The group’s actions were described as a “race-hate campaign” and “anti-refugee hate campaign”. The first article linked the White Pride Coalition and the Patriotic Youth League, which was responsible for a similar campaign in Newcastle in January 2005, but did not refer to the Newcastle incident.

Follow-up

Three articles were published between July 31 and August 2, providing information on further developments. Two news outlets published reports on a meeting that took place on July 30 between the Federal Multicultural Affairs Minister and the Sudanese community in Toowoomba. The Brisbane Sunday Mail reported on July 31 that “the minister made a lightning visit … in a bid to defuse simmering racial tension”. In its only coverage of this issue, the paper published quotes from members of the Sudanese community and from the online messages of the Crow’s Nest man purportedly behind the WPCA campaign.

An August 1 report in the Chronicle was the paper’s first article to present the voice of Toowoomba’s Sudanese community regarding the WPCA campaign. Community leader Albino Chol Thiik assured the Minister that the Sudanese community had been welcomed in Toowoomba and “we feel at home”. The positive attitudes of the Sudanese residents towards Toowoomba were emphasised and the Minister praised the city for its refugee program. The second article, published on August 2, reported that the Mayor of Crow’s Nest Shire had defended the town on national radio, denying “redneck” allegations made by a resident who linked the WPCA campaign with homophobic behaviour displayed by locals.

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Department of Immigration and Citizenship