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News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam

Iain Lygo, News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam

A timely book by Iain Lygo

10 March 2004 - This week in Sydney, a new book by Iain Lygo has been launched by Keysar Trad, Vice President of the Lebanese Muslim Association.

Gleebooks in Melbourne, who hosted the Victoria launch, comments about this important contribution to the unravelling of events and developments in Australia:

"This book is a stinging left hook to far right columnists and shock jocks who are powerful political players masquerading as journalists."

And the author himself said at the launch:

"Five years ago, if someone had told me the government would send asylum seekers to bankrupt Pacific states to be imprisoned beyond the scrutiny of Australian courts and the world's media, I would have told them they were crazy. In John Howard's Australia, this basic denial of human rights not only goes unquestioned by much of the media, it is celebrated by the tabloid press and numerous shock jocks on commercial radio."

Title: News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam
Author: Iain Lygo
Publisher: Southerly Change Publications
Dimensions: Paperback
ISBN: 0 9751768 0 3
Price: $24.95
Other: Foreword by The Hon Justice Marcus Einfeld, AO, QC


News Overboard12 March 2004: Iain Lygo's speech at the launch of his 'News Overboard' - "Five years ago, if someone had told me the government would send asylum seekers to bankrupt Pacific states to be imprisoned beyond the scrutiny of Australian courts and the world's media, I would have told them they were crazy. In John Howard's Australia, this basic denial of human rights not only goes unquestioned by much of the media, it is celebrated by the tabloid press and numerous shock jocks on commercial radio."

When the Tampa rescued 433 asylum seekers Captain Rinnan's courage and compassion was celebrated though out the world. In Australia, Rinnan and his container ship were portrayed as a threat to our sovereignty. In Howard's Australia, asylum seekers are mandatorily and indefinitely detained in camps, off-limits to the media.

This fundamental breach of human rights not only goes unquestioned by the tabloid media but is celebrated by the shock jocks and many ultra conservative columnists and editors.

Channel Nine's political commentator Laurie Oaks argued the 2001 election was won through "dog whistle" campaigning. He argued the conservatives' message was pitched at a level that attracted the racist vote but went unheard by the rest of the population. News Overboard critically scrutinises how the tabloid media also blew the "dog whistle" in 2001 and continues to blow it today.

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News Overboard examines:

News Overboard exposes:

Comprehensive academic studies reveal 54% of Australians would be concerned if their relatives married a Muslim. The tabloid media and the conservative government has been instrumental in racism becoming mainstream in Australia. News Overboard examines how this situation came about in the new millennium.

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About the author

Iain Lygo is a social activist and a post-graduate journalism student at Deakin University in Victoria. He stood as the Greens candidate for the seat of Corangamite in the 2001 Federal election and the seat of South Barwon in the last state election.

Rural Australians for Refugees

Iain is an active member of the Surf Coast branch of Rural Australians for Refugees and was part of the successful campaign to stop a peak energy power station being built just West of Geelong. He has also campaigned to stop clearfelling in the Otway Ranges in South West Victoria.

Iain hosted a current affairs radio show titled The Big Issues on Geelong Radio 94.7 The Pulse, and has also produced an independent film titled Welcome to the Mentawais. This film examines the effects of globalisation on a remote region in Indonesia. Proceeds from the film were donated to Surf Aid International, an NGO committed to improving the health of the indigenous Mentawai people.

Iain Lygo: Waking up to Racism

ZNet Magazine
by Iain Lygo
April 23, 2004

"Are the Muslim rapes of Australian women in the Bankstown area the first signs of an Islamic hatred towards the community that welcomed them here years ago? Have we now, because of multiculturalism, created an Islamic community in Australia that's more aligned with Islam than it is with Australia?"

Alan Jones, 2UE, August 2001.

"The message about the tough new approach by Australia to people smuggling is getting through. The terrible weekend scenes of children of would-be asylum seekers being thrown into the sea and used as emotional weapons by the would-be queue jumpers will appal most Australians ... Children cannot be used as blackmail to devalue the sovereign rights and privileges offered by Australian citizenship. We don't want those types here."

"People we don't want" Herald Sun Editorial, October 8, 2001.

"Whatever tiny shred of goodwill that still existed in this country towards Muslim Australians probably disappeared at the same time the first passenger jet smashed into the World Trade Centre. Those who seek to portray John Howard as a bigot for his stand against the Tampa... (and) those who accuse Premier Bob Carr of flirting with race politics through his stand on crime, are free to meet in a telephone booth and talk amongst themselves. In the minds of most Australians, all these issues have merged into one."

David Penberthy, Daily Telegraph, September 15, 2001.

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In the second half of 2001, the tabloid media in Australia had whipped up a substantial anti-Muslim moral panic. Commentators blamed religion for heinous gang-rapes in Sydney's South West perpetrated by non-practicing Muslims. Muslim asylum seekers were portrayed as inhumane for throwing their children overboard and using them as "emotional weapons". The fact there was no "...terrible weekend scenes of children of would-be asylum seekers being thrown into the sea" was irrelevant.

When the September 11 tragedy occurred it was the tabloid media that used Islam as a binding mechanism for local events (gang rapes), national events (asylum seekers) and international tragedies. It didn't matter that the WTC centre disaster was caused by an extremely small minority of Muslims. It didn't matter that the vast majority of asylum seekers were judged as genuine refugees, and it didn't matter that gang-rapes has nothing to do with Islam and the rapists had drifted away from the mosques. In 2001 the Australian media was pushing a fully-fledged moral panic, One Nation voters were streaming back to the conservatives, mosques were being fire-bombed, and Muslims were becoming prisoners in their own home. While nobody believes Australian Muslims should be beyond scrutiny by the media, most people would agree that stories about Australian Muslims must be fair and accurate. Since 2001, nothing much has changed, and Muslims are routinely demonised by a small, but extremely loud group, of media commentators who have two eyes on the ratings figures and don't seem to care about the rise in Islamaphobia in Australia.

Sydney shock jock Alan Jones' campaign against the Annangrove prayer hall in Sydney's North West is a classic example of media personalities operating in a highly dubious manner. During the planning and appeals process for the prayer hall in 2003, Jones repeatedly exaggerated the size and usage patterns of the hall.

The proponent for the project, Ali Abbas, had already had his office and property vandalised, and had suffered from an anti-Muslim poster campaign. Despite this, Jones still backed those opposing the prayer hall, and he rallied against other media organisations who portrayed Abbas as "a loveable, humble, peaceful man".

The tabloid press have also been spectacularly unsuccessful in uncovering terror cells in Australian. Reporting potential terrorist cells in Australia is a difficult task, and the decision to broadcast or publish any findings must be carefully considered.

Journalists must consider whether their work will interfere with an ASIO or police investigation, prejudice a trial, or defame someone. Media law is difficult at the best of times, but there is also the ethical consideration that accusing someone of having terrorist links may result in some form of vigilantism or may result in an increase in hate crime. While some stories, such as the terror training camps in Victorian state forests, and the Sixty Minutes' "Bagman of Bali" report, were the result of unreliable primary sources, others are disgracefully dishonest and mischievous.

On November 26 2002, Alan Jones produced one of the most bias and irresponsible reports about Islam in Australia when he appeared on Channel 9's Today Show for his daily editorial. Jones' broadcast, titled "Funding Terrorism", was lifted without acknowledgement from an article that appeared in the November 25 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald. At the start of Jones' editorial he talked about financial links between the Saudi government and the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York. He then goes to say "well, how does this sit with reports here in Australia that most of Sydney's mosques have received enormous donations from the same Saudi royal family." Jones cherry picked pieces from The Sydney Morning Herald article about Islamic charities providing funds for Islamic schools and mosques, and asked the rhetorical question, "what has it (The Saudi government) expected in return?"

The editorial states "The Melak Fahd Islamic School at Chullora in Sydney is named after the Saudi King because he gave them two million dollars to buy the land it is on" but fails to mention that the school returned one million dollars after a dispute about academic control. Jones also fails to quote school spokesperson Mr Mehboob who told The Sydney Morning Herald, "we want to make absolutely sure that the school reflects Australian Islam and not Islam associated with any overseas country or region".

Jones also tries to link donations made 27 years ago for the construction of Sydney's Lakemba mosque to today's international terrorism situation.

Jones also ignores quotes from Monash University lecturer and co-editor of Muslim Communities in Australia, Shahram Akbarzadeh, who told The Sydney Morning Herald it was time to "cut the cord" on overseas funding. Quotes in the November 25 article in The Sydney Morning Herald from Gabr Elgafi, the Chairman of the Supreme Islamic Council in NSW were also ignored by Jones. Gabr Elgafi indicated he believed Australian mosques should be more self reliant.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the King Abdul Aziz School was eventually paid for by certifying fees received from Australian lamb exporters. Luckily for them Jones ignored this as well, and didn't drag lamb producers into his conspiratorial terrorism web. Another source of funding for the school came from a very shadowy Australian Federal Government. (again omitted by Jones).

Jones omits the clear trend away from Saudi Arabia as a source of funds for mosque and school building outlined in The Sydney Morning Herald. Armed with nothing more than a rival newspapers report about funding for mosques and Islamic school increasingly coming from local sources, Jones effectively argued these mosques and schools owed a debt to terrorist organisations. So soon after the Bali bombings, Jones put these organisations at further risk of revenge attacks.

Jones finishes his ludicrous editorial by saying, "The politically correct will tell us we shouldn't be concerned." While Anti-Islamic commentary in the tabloid media is used for commercial reasons, it has also been politicised, and usually peaks during election times. The Federal Liberal party clinically utilised, and participated in, the anti-Muslim sentiment in 2001 to secure an election win that looked highly unlikely six months before the poll.

NSW premier Bob Carr also blows the dog-whistle with great political skill. In the lead up to the 2004 polls, and with the coalition again on the political ropes, one of their few options is another vote-winning moral panic. At this stage it looks like it won't involve asylum seekers again. Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone has been busy granting visas and getting children out of detention, and with a cynical electorate, there are also too many skeletons in the closet on the asylum seeker issue for the conservatives. The ALP will also be suitably prepared and may hold the upper hand on this issue.

In a desperate search for a wedge, the 2004 "Tampa" may well be the Mufti of Australia Sheikh Taj-el Hilaly. He is already a favourite "whipping boy" for the same tabloid media commentators who turned a container ship with 433 asylum seekers into a threat to national security. Like asylum seekers, Hilaly can easily be portrayed as a threat. He has limited English and is somewhat defenceless.

After a February 2004 speech at the Al Suds mosque in Lebanon, Hilaly came under a sustained attacked from sections of the tabloid media. The Herald Sun's Andrew Bolt and The Daily Telegraph's Piers Akerman have repeatedly claimed Hilaly has "...praised September 11 as God's work". These claims are based on a transcript of his Al Suds speech, but do they stand up to scrutiny. Hilaly's speech is filled with tales, poetry, and fables, and it is impossible to judge from the transcript which words are Hilaly's, and which ones he is merely quoting. There is also the problem that Arabic, especially a high religious sermon, is not easily translated to English. From the transcript, it is simply impossible to draw any definitive conclusions. Journalists are perfectly entitled to report Hilaly's words, but they should also report the correct context. Bolt and Akerman merely assume the context to portray Hilaly in a negative light to support their agendas.

Quality journalism would track down the video recording of Hilaly's speech. The recording would clarify this situation once and for all. The fact that the recording has not been produced by the Federal government indicates two possibilities. It clears Hilaly entirely and is consistent with his public statements in Australia condemning terrorism, or it incriminates the Mufti and has been held back to be released at a politically opportunistic time. Either way, with a highly unethical tabloid media, Hilaly is a potential walking "Tampa" for the 2004 election.

Iain Lygo is the author of News Overboard; The Tabloid Media, Race Politics and Islam.

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Media views of Arabs distorted: study

Friday 5 March 2004
Peter Manning and Iain Lygo

Peter Manning is the author of Dog Whistle Politics, and Iain Lygo is the author of News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics and Islam

Views of Arabic and Muslim people have been distorted by the Australian media since the tragedy of September 11, a controversial new study has found. The study by journalist Peter Manning examines media representations of Muslim and Arabic people before and after the terrorist attack on New York's World Trade Centre in 2001.

It examines the representation of Muslim people during peak events such as the Palestinian intifada, the south-west Sydney gang rape trials, an increase in the arrival of asylum seekers and the federal election of 2001.

Since September 11, asylum seekers have been portrayed in the country's major print media as tricky, ungrateful and undeserving, the study, Dog Whistle Politics, claims.

"In the most extreme cases they are disgusting and barely human (throwing their children overboard or breaking their bones),"

Mr Manning wrote in his study.

"The ordinary reader is drawn to the natural conclusion that they don't deserve our compassion or sympathy and should be sent away."

Mr Manning, a former news editor at the ABC and Channel Seven who currently lectures in journalism at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), said these representations suited government purposes by creating support for the closed-door policy on asylum seekers. His study uses examples of reports in two Sydney newspapers - The Sydney Morning Herald and The Daily Telegraph - to highlight its case.

Sydney was chosen as the site for the study because of its large Arabic community, Mr Manning said. Seventy per cent of Australia's Arabic speakers live in Sydney, with the biggest group being the Lebanese, he said. "Arab young men, in particular, are seen as especially threatening, wanting 'our' Caucasian women and not policed sufficiently by their own communities, who lack either values (respect for women) or interest (accepting responsibility) for these men," the study said.

"This monograph suggests the representations of Arabic and Muslim people in our major print media are so distorted as to give good grounds for a major challenge."

The release of the study coincides with the launch of another book on media reporting of Muslim issues.

News Overboard: the tabloid media, race politics, and Islam, by author Iain Lygo, examines media and government manipulation of news relating to Muslims and refugees.

"We are hoping that as these two books come out they will highlight some of the issues facing Australians and will help to rectify the trend of demonising a significant section of the community," Lebanese Muslim Association spokesman Keysar Trad said.

Mr Trad said the perception of Muslim and Arabic people had been distorted by media reports. "I can't say that it's always intentional and it often happens out of ignorance, a rush to get stories finished or shortage of newspaper space, but this causes harm and can result in the harassment of minorities. People are influenced by these reports and see all Muslims as part of the problem."

İAAP 2004

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