Reporting Diversity
Curriculum Modules

Curriculum Module Two

The Scenario and Study materials

Overview

Sometimes conflicts arise which polarise community points of view. In such situations, the media plays a crucial role in providing an unbiased account of the issues so that community members can reach informed conclusions. Similarly, when journalists repeat damaging or inflammatory comments, without testing their veracity, they can make a bad situation worse.

This case study explores an on-going political situation in the local community where a right-wing group is making damaging public statements about an individual ethnic group in the community. As a journalist, you have the opportunity to sort the facts from the harmful speculation surrounding this story. Or, if you reinforce inaccurate perceptions, you will add to the conflict in the community. You will need to consider if it is a journalist’s job to decide who is in the right and who is wrong. Journalists who ignore people who say harmful things may be said to be practising censorship. Who decides whether behaviour is acceptable?
This case study considers community responses to the influx of refugee immigrants in

Australia drawn from Africa, and in particular Sudan. This group is the fastest growing immigrant group and Australia is generally unused to African migrants in the community. Welfare groups have observed that there something confronting about people who are physically very different to the Anglo-European norm and have an entirely different cultural background.

The label of “difference” attached to Sudanese refugees is further exacerbated by the tragic recent history of Sudan. It is difficult for people who have never experienced civil war to understand and empathise with the damage caused by decades of relentless internal violence. The concerns of people who cannot relate to this experience are heightened by reporting about the real emotional and social problems experienced by this migrant group. In this context “different” can take on an ominous quality and fear can lead to the unquestioning acceptance of stereotypes, especially when impartial information is hard to find. Negative stereotypes about people who come from violent societies can directly affect the way they are perceived by others. This, in turn, affects the refugee’s ability to settle into a new environment.

The journalist takes on an important role in such situations because it the tone of reporting will affect the extent to which the reader feels threatened by the situation described. In such circumstances, the reporter is part of the problem or part of the solution. This case study poses some deep contextual questions for journalists including:

  • Are some refugees inherently more dangerous than others? Why? How might such a claim be substantiated?
  • How does the work done by journalists affect how people perceive risk relating to migration?
  • How crucial is the role of journalism in the integration of Sudanese migrants into Australian society? Why?
  • Can journalism avoid participation in this integration? Why?
  • Should journalists have a personal view on such matters, positive or negative? How should a journalist manage their personal feelings when reporting an issue?
  • How many sides are there to this story? How many do you need to cover? Why?
  • Is it racist to single out a certain group and focus on its social problems? Why?
  • Should offensive voices in the community be reported or ignored? Why?

The Scenario

Your news outlet has already reported a number of Australians Only Party claims that there has been a sudden increase in crime due to a local influx of Sudanese refugees. It also reported the events at a public forum organised by the Party at which it was claimed that the community is under threat from “trained murderers who have lost all sense of what it means to be civilised”. The following night, a Sudanese father of four is beaten on the street and left to die. Four unemployed youths are later arrested and claim they were defending themselves after the man ran at them waving a stick and screaming incoherently. You are asked to investigate the “Sudanese situation” and prepare a feature. A number of interviews are done and the transcripts are provided here along with a media release from a local politician. You also conduct your own, web-based research of the issues affecting post-war refugees.

The following questions provide a guide for analysing this scenario from a journalist’s perspective. In considering these questions, you may refer to the resources provided in these materials.

  1. Would people want to know about this? Could reporting this story harm anyone?
    It is said that while the media is not good at telling people what to think, it is very good at telling them what to think about (Cohen 1963). So when a reporter makes the decision to report something that is divisive, the reporter is choosing to add to conflict in the community. Sometimes, this sort of harm must be done for the greater good of the community. Who could be harmed the reporting of this story? Is it worth it? Why?
     
  2. What news values are you attaching to this story?
    Often more than one news value is present in a story. The journalist’s choice to give one priority sets the tone of the article. Is conflict as a news value enough to justify the story? How would the public interest be served by reporting such a matter? What other news values are present in these events?
     
  3. What facts do you need to tell this story?
    An important part of the journalist’s role is separating fact from opinion. Before you can address the issues raised by these events, you first need to establish whether what you have been told is true. How will you do this? Is there an impartial source of information available to you?
     
  4. Is there missing information that you need to find? What and why?
    Sometimes an interview offers up as many questions as it does answers. When you are presented with two sides to a story, it is seldom a clear picture of everything that is going on. Where do you go in this case to find an unbiased account of the issues? For example, how would you investigate the special needs of post-war refugees?
     
  5. What factors do you need to consider when talking to your interviewees? How reliable are your sources? Why?
    That your interviewee says they believe in the point of view being expressed is not the same as their view being accurate. What you accept as fact you must be able to verify independently. If you can’t verify what you have been told, you may consider if you could still use the information, provided you place the comments in context. You need to consider what has motivated the interviewees to speak with you – are some people more reliable sources than others? Why?
     
  6. How will you choose which facts to include in the story?
    A journalist wields great power in choosing the information to include in a story. The angle taken directly influences the audience’s reaction to the story. Which news values will you give priority? Is conflict always the most important news value? Why? What other news values may be applied to this story? Have you identified a hero and/or a villain in your story? Why? What is your angle? How does your perceived audience affect this decision? How is the public interest served by reporting this story? What other angles are available?

Transcripts of Interviews

INTERVIEW 1: Dr Jim Saleam from Australians Only Party

REPORTER: What do you say to those people who accuse you of stirring up racial violence in this community?

DR S: I didn’t cause the problem – I am just pointing it out. Refugee migration is very disturbing because we're dealing with people that have come from utterly fractured societies where the use of the gun and the knife is the common way to settle disputes.

REPORTER: Didn’t you yourself spend time in jail for shooting an African leader some years ago?

DR S: I don’t wish to discuss that.

REPORTER: What was the purpose of the forum, if it wasn’t to generate resentment against one refugee group in the community?

DR S: We seek to lobby those groups bringing Sudanese immigrants into Australia to adopt an isolationist policy rather than letting them run riot in our neighbourhoods. These immigrants are behind an upsurge of crime in the area.

REPORTER: The police deny that there has been such an increase.

DR S: People feel like they need to safeguard their own interests. They see these new people coming into their area who are completely alien to them and they are afraid.

There is no good reason for Australia to import trouble.

INTERVIEW 2: Nihail Nihail from Sudanese Support Group (SSG)

REPORTER: How many Sudanese refugees are in Australia and in this area, in particular?

NN: The 2001 Census showed there were 4910 Sudanese in Australia, but since then, many more refugees have arrived. By 2004, about 11 per cent of Australia's migrant intake was from Sudan. We think another 5000 Sudanese have come to Australia since the 2001 Census. Around 400 Sudanese have settled in the local area, where many have filled long-term vacancies in low-skilled jobs and brought greater cultural diversity to the region.

REPORTER: Are the Sudanese genuine refugees?

NN: They have been granted offshore humanitarian status offshore, before they even reached this country. That is because their very survival has been harrowing. Along the way, all families have lost relatives through fighting and illness and many have witnessed the violent deaths of loved ones.

REPORTER: Doesn’t that tend to back up the idea that these people are dangerous?

NN: They have spent much of their lives at risk of disease, far from medical care, vulnerable to mercenary behaviour of militia and residents of host countries. In refugee camps, they faced over-crowding, lack of basic necessities, poor education, danger, and sexual violence. These experiences do come with a price.

Most Sudanese people in Australia, and probably most of the Diaspora, are struggling to shake-off the long-term effects of their trauma. In suburbs all over Australasia and the Pacific, there are damaged people seeking compassionate and effective respite and repair from it.

REPORTER: Isn’t that all the more reason to keep these people away from Australian society?

NN: Not at all. The Sudanese people need a fair go. They need the care and support of all Australians to put the past behind them.

MEDIA RELEASE

Lord Mayor Condemns Racist Slurs

Capital City Lord Mayor John Gow has condemned the actions of a right-wing political group known as the Australia First Group in the city.

His comments follow a letterbox dropping campaign by the AOP, distributing racist leaflets calling for an end to refugee immigration.

‘The material circulated targets recent Sudanese arrivals and contains deeply personal and offensive slogans in an attempt to generate fear and hate in the community,’ Cnr Gow said.

‘These racist campaigns have no place in any part of the Australian community and will be abhorrent to all fair-minded Australians. Refugees coming from the poorest and most war-ravaged countries deserve our compassion and support.

‘The Sudanese have been welcomed by the community at large and respected for their work ethic and commitment to family life.

‘Our city has a long and distinguished history of immigration, and the latest arrivals are following in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of migrants who have made a vital contribution to the economic, social and cultural success of this city and the region,’ he concluded.

Return

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