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Racism in the media

12 November 2019 at 8:22 am
Wendy Williams
57 per cent of opinion pieces discussing race involve racist language or themes

Wendy Williams | 12 November 2019 at 8:22 am


Racism in the media
12 November 2019 at 8:22 am

57 per cent of opinion pieces discussing race involve racist language or themes

Racism is a systemic issue in Australian media, a new report has found, revealing that more than half of race-related opinion pieces negatively portray Australian racial minorities.

The study, which analysed 281 media pieces from the most popular newspapers and television shows over a 12 month period, found that social commentators expressed racist views in both overt and covert ways such as dog-whistling, decontextualisation and irony. 

Muslim Australians were the most frequently targeted, the report by All Together Now found, with 63 of the 281 pieces discussing Muslims specifically.

The vast majority (91 per cent) of the negative race-related media pieces were published in three newspapers: The Daily Telegraph, The Australian and the Herald Sun, which alone published 46 per cent of all negative race-related pieces. 

Jennifer McLean, of All Together Now’s Media Monitoring Project, said racism was a systemic issue in Australia.

“It continues to be reinforced through the media at the expense of communities,” McLean said.

“All Together Now defends the notion of a free press. However, it’s imperative that we challenge pervasive racism in the media and support diverse communities to feel respected and safe.” 

Of the 57 per cent of pieces that negative portrayed race, 96 per cent were written or produced by media commentators with an Anglo-Celtic or European cultural background. 

The report also found that the tone and content of the comments sections accompanying negatively racialised articles suggested these articles solidified the views of readers who already agreed with such views.

Jacqueline Nelson, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Technology Sydney, which partnered with All Together Now to develop the media monitoring framework, said the way the media represented all Australians was of critical importance.

“Problematic representation of particular cultural groups, whether covert or more blatant, reinforces white dominance and can undermine a sense of belonging for those targeted,” Nelson said.

The report criticised the media industry’s existing codes of conduct for not fully covering racism in opinion pieces, not taking into consideration covert racism (which made up 70 per cent of the examples) and for a lack of frameworks on racism that are binding.

Based on the findings, the report presented two sets of recommendations: one focusing on strengthening Australia’s media regulatory frameworks, the other on increasing the cultural diversity of journalists working for mainstream media agencies. 

The full report can be found here.


Overt v covert racism:

Out of the 159 negative media pieces the report identified, 70 per cent used covert techniques when commenting about race, either in isolation or in combination with overtly negative language or framing.

  • Overt racism is easier to identify in a media piece due to explicitly and negatively racialised language or framing.
  • Covert racism is more difficult to identify as it uses implicit or intertextual meanings.

For example, it uses techniques such as dog-whistling, irony and de-contextualisation.

  • Dog whistling – is a writing technique that relies on stoking racial fears in particular sections of the audience, without using explicit language.
  • De-contextualisation – is a writing technique that omits information, which causes the misrepresentation of the person or group discussed.
  • Irony – is the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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