Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

Refugees: Agitating For Change In The Australian Media

Refugees: Agitating For Change In The Australian Media

Gabrielle Ryan

Year 8, Loreto Normanhurst

The Australian media is responsible for giving refugees a bad name. With media headlines eliciting ideas of refugees as threats to our Australian way of life, it is no surprise that they are being portrayed negatively. Refugees are frequently labelled as murderers, terrorists and people with bad intentions. It is clear that refugees have certainly endured the harsh brunt of controversy. Despite being unfair, the negative representations are repeatedly reinforced by the Australian media. This needs to stop.

Adverse headlines and reports presented by the media are responsible for the public perception that “all refugees are terrorists”. Recently, members of the public have undertaken surveys testing their opinions on refugees in Australia. Results from a 2017 poll conducted by the Lowy Institute revealed that 40% of poll participants viewed refugees coming into Australia by boat as a “critical threat” to our nation's interests Media and social media seem to have amplified this perception by linking refugees to terrorist attacks, both in Australia and overseas. A Sun Heald headline emphatically declares “Why are we importing refugee terrorists”. By using emotive and forthright language to grab the reader's attention, the media subliminally influences readers to believe that “all refugees are terrorists”. This is despite the reader's assumptions that the media present articles containing impartial information. Given the substantial power that the Australian media has on society, it is no wonder that the general population believe that 'all refugees are terrorists”. The Australian media industry holds the power to shape public perception. Although we expect that they present their opinions impartially, often they overtly and covertly diminish refugees' rights by influencing the public that they don't belong in Australia. 

The negative representation of refugees by the media has damaged the general population's once empathetic response that refugees are welcome to find protection in Australia. Almost half (48%) of the 1200 Australians who participated in the Lowy Institute's poll believe that refugees currently in detention centres on Nauru and Manus islands, should never be permanently settled in Australia. Given that the media are a significant influence on public opinion, it is largely responsible for this alarming survey result. The media are rarely questioned about their presentation of “the facts”, and they often know much more about the topic than the general public ever will. Conversely, the public rarely have access to primary evidence, and are unable to test the media's conclusion of the subject, largely due to the persuasive reporting techniques utilised by biased journalists and newspaper editors.

The negative media representation is further inflamed by conservative politicians including Federal Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, who frequently uses emotive language to create a scare campaign against refugees. Dutton controversially stated that refugees “would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there's no sense in sugar-coating that”. Political statements like this feed the media frenzy which presents refugees negatively and as a threat to Australian society.

Overall, the national media representation of refugees is stereotypically negative, leaving neglected refugees in need of our empathy and assistance. This is in direct contrast to the positive representation of refugees in regional newspapers, who shine a more humanistic lens on the plight of refugees. Perhaps this is because regional media plays a larger role of building a community, rather than biasedly presenting “the facts” about refugees. Our national media outlets should follow their example. Let's eradicate the negative stereotypes and treat refugees as people, not problems.