Indigenous Representation in Australian Media Essay
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In this essay I will argue that the media representation of Indigenous Australian’s is stereotypical and distorted. Far from a true reflection of Aboriginal life and practice, the media manipulates the interpretation of what white Australia view as the life of an Indigenous Australian. I aim to show that cultural stereotyping, and cultural sensationalist reporting exists within the media, and therefore the general public. I will provide a basis for this argument starting with the views and cultures prevalent in the origins of Australian media.
In conjunction with my argument, I will draw on examples taken from specific stories published by media provider ‘The Australian,” to use them as an example of Indigenous portrayal in mainstream media. The analysis of these stories will display evidence of stereotypical representation of Indigenous Australians. My argument will also incorporate scholarly views on the Aboriginal communities own view on their representation, and show an example of what steps they have taken within their communities to counteract such treatment.
Meadows (2001, p.1) refers to colonial literature perpetrating racial stereotyping and racist treatment of native Australians. This is a concept also approached by Hall (cited in Ewart, 1997, p. 109) showing how media is part of the formation of race and cultural identity in the Australian landscape. This shows that the very fabric of indigenous representation in the creation of Australian media has been influencing the country’s views from day one. If this is the case, and has been since the creation of Australian media, how does the average Australian recognise stereotyping when reading a story or watching the news? , they won’t.
People generally place their faith in the media, and believe what they are viewing to be free of prejudice. This belief works in unison with the view that in the modern politically correct world, racism no longer has an influence on the media, and racial stereotyping is a thing of the past. This belief does have merit with the extinction of blatant racism, but the undertones are still influencing the media. Jakubowicz (cited in Bullimore, 1999, p. 73) refers to the point that overt racism may not be as prevalent as it previously was, but covert racism in stereotypical representation of the Indigenous still exists.
These covertly racist influences were exposed in 1991 in a National Inquiry into racism, and the Human Rights Commission (cited in Bullimore, 1999, p. 73) found that the Australian media has a tendency for the fuelling and promotion of racial stereotyping, not to mention sensationalism reporting on the issues of race. A perfect example of this stereotyping is a recent article by The Australian in March 2010 titled, ‘Parents stopping kids going to school. ’ This article offers a 26 photo picture gallery with text below.
The story is based around Indigenous kids not wanting to attend school; apparently some parents say this is due to schoolyard violence. The story offers no insight or analysis into the violence or even any explanation of the children’s issues; it simply stereotypes Indigenous families and communities via the visual and written content. Initial pictures show barefoot children playing in a park with text making it very clear that it is 11:10am on a school day, and the children are not at school. The next set show children at 11:20am on a school day sitting around on dirty mattresses in squalor.
The text continually drives in here that the children are at home, and the pictures show family members sitting around in a circle not seeming to care. The story then moves on to children on a school bus, and eventually sitting on the floor in class. So are they at school or not? Is it the children that don’t want to go or is it the parents not wanting them to. Here is my point regarding this story. There are no facts, just a focus on Indigenous children not at school, and a focus on their families sitting around doing nothing also.
The story ends with photos of children running around kicking a football, throwing up gang signs, and sticking their middle finger up at the camera. With no clear structure or evidence, the story whether directly or indirectly, sets out to show Indigenous children having a great time missing school while their families sit around in squalor. As King (2009, p. 21) deliberates, with this sort of pre-empted vision of an Aboriginal family, how can such a family actually be portrayed as ordinary within the media?
Did the journalist set out to capture such cliches, or was it this societal view that this is how an indigenous family is best portrayed within the media? I believe it to be the latter. The issue surrounding this article can be explained by Gandy (cited in Meadows, 2001, p. 7) who refers to the media playing a role in providing simplistic and commonsense explanations for questions and events. It is then common sense for this routing being the basis for reinforcing and reproducing racial structures.
This may explain why the article shows such cliche images of Aboriginal children, and families with no information regarding the story itself. This can be a reference to how the media and in this case “The Australian,” portray Indigenous people to the Australian public via their print and visual media. The stereotypical undertone is clearly prevalent. To develop a proper understanding of the stereotyping issue within the Australian media, one has to incorporate the first hand views of the Indigenous people. How do they view their representation? Waller (2010, p. 19) refers to a telephone meeting involving Walpiri elders from Yuendumu.
The elders consider that because journalists don’t listen or take an interest in Indigenous issues then their ideas must not be heard in public discussion or indigenous affairs. Meadows (1994, p. 64) refers to elders from Torres Strait Island communities aiming to restrict the involvement of non-Islander journalists in the area. He goes on to explain that the ideal outcome for the Elders would be to control incoming and outgoing information via journalists, due to the disillusionment surrounding mainstream representation.
To further enforce Aboriginal views on their representation, Meadows (1994, p. 64) advises that certain Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory established a visitor permit system that require community-generated guidelines and rulings be followed. This clearly show’s that the indigenous communities view their representation as stereotypical and racially underlined. They feel their issues and thoughts are ignored. These concerns formed the basis for the implementation of larger Indigenous run media outlets to take precedence in the media landscape.
An article in The Australian on April 26th 2010 titled ‘Indigenous media goes under the microscope,’ explores Indigenous media in regards to government funding. The story explains that the government will be reviewing all directly funded Indigenous Media organisations. The apparent focus of the review is to ascertain whether public funding was providing the best possible outcomes for the Indigenous. From reading the story, I can identify the racial stereotyping not only from the content, but from the story structure also.
The heading advising that Indigenous media will go under the microscope screams to the reader, before even reading the story that things may not be completely above board. The content focuses on government and public funding which stereotypes the Aboriginal community as needing their hand help and continually wanting handouts to get ahead. This approach I believe displays the ‘Australians,’ covert approach to racial stereotyping. This stereotyping, and approach to this particular story can perhaps be explained.
According to Forde, Meadows & Foxwell-Norton (2001, p. 1) the Australian media Sector has held long term concerns regarding the governments support for smaller, independent or even alternative media organisations. As this is the case, it’s no surprise the Australian focussed their funding story in such a manner. The Australian is part of the News Limited Media Group, the largest media group in the country. The Australian media appears to segregate Indigenous figures within the Australian Government.
To build on the view of content within the ‘Australian,’ a story titled “Labor anger over Warren Mundine Senate push,” focuses on painting an “us and them,” mentality. Mundine’s interest over a vacated senate seat apparently had the media in frenzy, resulting in him being involved in a number of interviews. The article underlies Mundine’s Aboriginality as opposed to simply being a candidate. Other candidates weren’t pursued for interviews at such length, are we assuming the interest surrounding Mundine is purely generated by his cultural standing?
Racial stereotyping in the pursuit of a commercial story bought about an undoing of Mundine’s aspirations for the vacant senate seat. Labor was angered by Mundine’s overt involvement with the media, one party spokesman even labelling the interviews the “dumbest thing possible” I assume then that the media jumped on the Warren Mundine story to stick with the idealism of Indigenous sensationalism reporting. I believe this type of reporting was what Mckee (1999, p. 451) was referring to when looking into how indigeneity is formulated, and circulated throughout the Australian media channels.
In conclusion it is clear from my presented evidence that the Australian media’s and in my example the ‘Australians,’ representation of the Indigenous people is based on cultural stereotype and sensationalism. My argument draws on evidence to portray views from the standpoint of the media, views from the perspective of Indigenous Australians, and what the media feels should drive content in relation to indigenous issues. As stated, Indigenous communities are taking more and more control over their incoming and outgoing content.
This represents a significant cog in changing the landscape of the Australian media and ultimately, the stereotypical reporting of Indigenous affairs. REFERENCES Bullimore, K 1999, ‘Media Dreaming: Representation of Aboriginality in modern Australian media’, Asia Pacific Media Educator, vol 1 no. 6, pp. 72-81, viewed 09 May 2012, <http://ro. uow. edu. au/apme/vol1/iss6/7> Ewart, J 1997, ‘The Scabsuckers: Regional Journalists’ Representation Of Indigenous Australians’, Asia Pacific Media Educator, no. 3, pp. 108-117, viewed 09 May 2012, <http://ro. uow.
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Meadows, M 2001, Voices in the Wilderness: Images of Aboriginal People in the Australian Media, Greenwood Press, Westport. Meadows, M 1994, ‘The Way People Want to Talk: Indigenous Media Production in Australia and Canada’, Media Information Australia, no. 73, pp. 64-73, viewed 09 May 2012, <http://search. informi. com. au. libraryproxy. griffith. edu. au/documentSummary:dn=150132517231472:res=IELLCC> Nowytarger, R 2012, ‘Parents stopping kids going to school’, The Australian, 13 March 2010, viewed 09 May 2012, <http://www. theaustralian. com.au/news/nation/gallery-e6frg6nf-1225840347955>.
Packham, B 2012, ‘Labor anger over Warren Mundine Senate push’, The Australian, February 29 2012, viewed 09 May 2012, <http://www. theaustralian. com. au/national-affairs/labor-anger-over-warren-mundine-senate-push/story-fn59niix-1226284854206> Waller, L, 2010, ‘Indigenous research ethics: new modes of information gathering and storytelling in journalism’, Australian Journalism Review, no. 2, pp. 19-31, viewed 11 May 2012, <http://search. informit. com. au. libraryproxy. griffith. edu. au/fullText:dn=201102773;res=APAFT>.