The position of Asylum seekers and refugees has regularly emerged as a vexed issue in Australian society since 1999 (Romano 2004). Regularly a political agenda, the media and government frame the ‘boat people’ in a negative light. Uneducated, violent males convey the stereotype presented in images put forth to the public. These images are interlinked to create a narrative fueled by myths and misrepresentation.
“Media representation of refugees in Australia, like everywhere else, depict a picture of humanitarian refugees as villains or victims, without ever offering a reading of the cultural complexity of refugee experience”. Salazar p7
Metaphors of invasion like ‘flooding the country’ are often used to describe citizens seeking asylum. The media has characterised asylum seekers by five negative themes; criminality, illegality, threats to national and local identity, economic threat and social deviance. These characteristics dehumanise refugees and many Australians believe that the ‘boat people’ are treated far to generously. Australian television show Today Tonight aired a segment that fueled the myth that refugees live in luxury, with the audience feed inflammatory nonsense, leading to misinterpretations (Media Watch, 2014). Politicians, opinion leaders and media outlets, make this interpretation respectable, further feeding into the fear of race, hate and violence.
The documentary Go Back To Where You Came From produced by the ABC, shows the political mess in a new light. Its aim is to show the personal sacrifice the refugees are marking, risking their lives to flee their devastated, (most likely) worn torn country.
I happened to watch this documentary when it aired in August 2012 and what ultimately shifted my opinion on the debate were the terrible conditions in the Refugee camps and the thousands of malnourished children who are no bigger than the size of your hand. The real question here is, how does the Australian public identify the gaps in the information being presented and how do we convince the government and journalists that not all Asylum seekers fit the stereotype of ‘poor, brown and destitute’ (Dauvergne, 2008)?
Diasporic media plays a vital role in removing the stereotype by encouraging participatory media production. By enhancing the confidence of minority ethnic individuals and communities, this grassroots approach shapes their new environment and familiarises them in a less intimidating way (Sukhmani, 2014). From this we can conclude that refugees are no longer passive consumers rather active participants due to the increasing access to media production.
Salazar, Juan Francisco. (2012). ‘Digital Stories and emerging citizens’ media practices by migrant youth in Western Sydney’. 3CMedia: Journal of Community, Citizen’s and Third Sector Media and Communication, Issue 7. http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezpr oxy.uow.edu.au/ehost/detail?vid= 3&sid=c5373eb0-b85c-44ea- b3e5- cc2e901acc61%40sessionmgr40 03&hid=4201&bdata=JnNpdGU 9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db= ufh&AN=79551905. Accessed 20 May 2014
Romano, Angela R. (2004) Journalism’s role in mediating public conversation on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Australia. Australian Journalism Review, 26(2), pp. 43-62, accessed via UOW Summon
Media Watch, 2011, TT’s False Facts Fuel Fear, 24 Oct, viewed 20 May 2014, http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s3346987.htm
Sukhmani, K 2014, Diasporic Media, lecture, University Of Wollongong, 19 May, accessed via UOW Moodle 19 May 2014