20
Racialized 'othering'

The representation of asylum seekers in
news media
Olga Guedes Bailey and Ramaswami Harindranath
How does journalistic practice contribute to a process of 'othering' of refugees and asylum seekers?
What role do the labels such as 'illegal' and 'bogus' play in the politics of immigration control?
What are the challenges confronting journalists reporting on asylum seekers in the context of globalization?

An incident occurred off Australian territorial waters on 26 August 2001 that had significant consequences in the Australian parliamentary elections held that year. A Norwegian ship, the Tampa, rescued 433 survivors, mostly asylum seekers, from a sinking Indonesian ferry and took them to Christmas Island, part of Australian territory. Categorizing the rescued passengers of the Tampa as 'boatpeople' and 'illegal immigrants', the ruling Liberal Party sought to appeal to sections of the electorate by having Australian Special Forces board the ship in an attempt to stop the passengers from disembarking on Christmas Island – and thus being in a position to apply for asylum. What is of interest to our present concerns, however, is the role of the press in what subsequently came to be referred to as the Tampa affair. Some of the popular newspapers carried stories which reproduced the language of the government, as indicated in the headline in the front page of the Herald Sun on 31 August 2001: 'BACK OFF: Howard rejects UN call to take illegals'.

The complicity of the press with the government's position has since been noted by a few scholars. For example, Ward (2002: 22) writing in the Australian Journalism Review sees the affair as an instance of 'wedge politics' from which can be learned a lesson in political journalism: 'these events were part of a carefully calculated Liberal Party strategy to revive its flagging electoral stocks ahead of an imminent federal election.' Despite his careful analysis of the context of the incident, however, his claim that 'had this point been understood, the journalists may have framed the Tampa story

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