Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Negative Exposure: A Snapshot of ATSIC in Australia's Mainstream Print Media

Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Negative Exposure: A Snapshot of ATSIC in Australia's Mainstream Print Media

Article excerpt

Abstract

The news media plays a significant role in informing members of society about the world around them. The power of media includes influencing what is news and what gets published, and their ability to represent events and situations in certain ways. This article examines representations of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) in Australian print media over the period of December 1999 to August 2003. It engages with media theory and in particular, representations of race and racism in media, to determine whether fairness and accuracy was embraced in the reporting of ATSIC affairs. The study concludes that media provided a very particular and somewhat negative representation of ATSIC, particularly through practices of inferential racism. Instead of challenging commonly held views and opinions, the media maintained social constructions of the "other", which only contributes to the marginalisation of Indigenous people

Introduction

The news media plays a significant role in informing society about the world. The power of the media lies in both influencing what is news and what gets published, and the media's ability to represent people, places, events and situations in certain ways. Thus, the media is an active participant in giving meaning to issues and events as they arise in the public domain. While there are strong debates surrounding the effects of the media, an underlying assumption of media analysis is that the production of news has the potential to influence readers or audiences. (1) Cohen (1963) states, that the media 'may not be successful in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about.' (2) Subsequently, it is important to understand what people are being told through their media sources, given that this has the potential to influence how they make sense of the world around them.

Representations of Indigenous people in Australian mainstream media are important, as they have the potential to define Indigenous people to non-Indigenous Australians. They provide a framework abut what to think about Indigenous Australians, and subsequently influence attitudes towards them. This study provides a detailed account of how mainstream print in Australia media presented the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC). Through a content analysis of newspaper coverage over a four-year period, the study reveals a very particular representation of ATSIC in the public sphere. In particular, it found that while overt racism is not a prominent feature of contemporary media coverage of Indigenous issues, inferential racism is significant.

Inferential Racism and the "Other"

The historical context of representations of Indigenous people is central to how they are understood today. Meadows (2001) traced the development of media and journalistic practices since white settlement of Australia. He found that earlier examples of media coverage of Indigenous people have often consisted of stereotypical images that have been overtly racist. (3) Examples include a subtitle from news magazine The Bulletin in May 1908 that proclaimed openly beneath its masthead: Australia for the Whiteman, a subtitle that remained unchanged until 1960 when the magazine changed ownership. (4) Early Queensland newspapers such as the Moreton Bay Courier included a regular section titled The Blacks, which relayed to its readers the latest news of conflict between settlers and Indigenous Australians. (5) More recently, coverage of Indigenous events and issues has continued to place Indigenous people in a particular way, but has accomplished this through a continuing structure of attitudes and inferential racism, rather than the previously overtly racist coverage. (6) Meadows concluded that '... overall, Indigenous people remain largely excluded from mainstream media processes, their interests ignored, and their voices seldom, if ever, heard. …

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