I wrote this a few days ago but didn’t manage to quite finish/proof it. Perceptions have changed a wee bit since coming to Melbourne, but a lot of it’s still pretty valid.
I really don’t know what to make of this place.
Actually I do. For the first time in my ‘grown-up’ life I get to see how great the effect of media is on the construction of understanding of reality. While I knew this and saw this back home, I knew a lot more about the context of any given situation so I would always subconsciously fill in the gaps of any story I saw. And back home I was always able to rely on ‘other’ news sources for more information. Sources like Scoop and Indymedia have been invaluable for me to find news stories that actually reflect what’s going on, and give decent analysis as to what’s going on. Not just the reality as decided by corporate advertising executives.
But here the media seems just so much more biased and the people that I’ve met (admittedly, very few) seem very affected by it. I would be very interested to find some journalism students to talk to to find out what they are toaght here. I have seen two press conferences since I’ve been here and found them to be very interesting learning experiences. The first was an on the spot presser given by Kerry Nettle (Green Senator) at the freedom rally in the weekend. The questions asked reminded me of the interrogation Rod Donald got from the Indonesian journalists after Rod and Nandor held their silent protest on the steps of Parliament during the visit of the Indonesian President to New Zealand a few months ago. The questions the journalists asked Kerry were all very much along Government policy lines and were exceptionally loaded with rhetoric. And what little coverage I saw of that demo and Kerry’s comments gave no attempt to communicate what people were demonstrating against and portrayed the participants to be unpatriotic and supporters of terrorism. Even though some of the people that were there were connected in various ways to terrorism, particularly the first Bali bombing.
The second presser I saw was a live broadcast of John Howard’s comments after the first round of terrorism raids in Sydney and Melbourne. It was a very typical politician press conference but I was heartened to hear Howard reinforce the importance of not allowing the trial of these men to become a trial by media and cautioning both other politicians and members of the media to be careful when discussing the arrests to not pass judgement so they could get a fair trial. Fair enough I thought. So I was astonished to see the news that evening completely ignoring that advice and practically hanging the men charged before they’d even faced a judge.
Not surprisingly, the lawyers for all men involved have already begun to say that these men will not be able to face a fair trial.
But what I’ve found interesting about all of the media discussions about terrorism etc is the blatant racism inherent within all of the reports and how much people here seem to pick it up.
To slightly change the subject I want to finish this post by sharing a conversation I had the other night. I was talking to a couple of ‘good keen ocker blokes’ about the media attitude towards people of the Muslim faith and we started talking about immigrants in general. These men were arguing to me that while ‘they’re not racist’ (ahem) they have a problem with the people who come here and refuse to assimilate. They were bemoaning the amount of foreign language signs around and how it’s hard to like immigrants if they don’t try and be a part of the community. I tried to point out to them that it might be hard for new immigrants if the only people that will talk to them is other immigrants. And perhaps if Australians tried to be more welcoming to new members of their communities they might be more likely to engage with the existing communities. They responded by arguing that the Government gives them heaps in terms of settlement assistance, benefits etc. I chose not to point out to them that they’re talking about what the government does, not what actual people do – big difference. Instead I said that to be the devils advocate for a minute, wasn’t the behaviour of recent immigrants (wearing traditional clothes, speaking their own languages etc) still a lot nicer than what the colonising people of Australia did to the Aborigine people? (Should’ve seen the looks on their faces!) They replied that the past was the past and the Government gives heaps to Aborigine people now. They told me the problem wasn’t the Aborigine people in the bush, but the ones in the city.
I replied by pointing out to them that it’s about access to culture. If you get your culture taken away from you, you lose your identity. And if you lose your identity you will lose pride in your behaviour.
This world is in some radical need of some recognition of the power and value to all of us of diversity and difference. Politics of difference allow us all to hold an identity and be proud of it. If we get our heads around the idea that the identity of one group of people shouldn’t come at the cost of the identity of another group of people, we will make some seriously significant progress towards ending racism. It’s not just about telling ourselves that we’re not racist (as long as other people would just be more like us), but going out of our way to understand more about the world views of other people. The more we understand each other, the less we have to prove that ‘our way is the right way’.