Curriculum Module Two
The Scenario and Study materials
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
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?
- Is it racist to single out a certain group and focus on its social
- Should offensive voices in the community be reported or ignored?
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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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
- Is there missing information that you need to find? What
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?
- 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?
- 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,
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
REPORTER: Doesn’t that tend to back up the idea that these people
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.
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
‘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.