Two articles published today by The Daily Telegraph show the differences in how asylum seekers are portrayed by journalists.
The first, ‘600 asylum seekers have arrived on Australian shores so far this month‘, wrote in its lead:
NEARLY 600 asylum seekers and crew have been caught trying to reach Australia’s shores since the start of the month, after the navy intercepted another boat yesterday.
While the second article, ‘Missing asylum seeker boat found‘, began with:
AN asylum seeker boat missing and feared lost has been found at the Indonesian island of Lombok, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen says.
The stories were further separated by their sources. Opposition Immigration Spokesman Scott Morrison was quoted as saying: “We have had more people turn up in the last week than in last six years of the Howard government, yet Labor continues to opt for the Greens policies on asylum seekers rather than the proven polices of John Howard that they abolished.” The article continued in a political vein, using Morrison’s quotes as commentary on the government’s actions.
The second, however, quoted Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, and was notably more humanistic. It emphasised Bowen’s call for “a proper deterrent of offshore processing to stop these boat journeys,” and ended noting a December incident where about 200 asylum seekers died when their boat sank.
The issue these conflicting articles reveal is how the media frames (and should frame) asylum seekers.
Mandatory detention has been in effect since the Keating government in 1992. Gillard’s and Rudd’s stances followed a similar line to the Howard government. An article written by The Age last year noted in debates between then Prime Minister John Howard and Opposition Leader Kim Beazley that:
Labor’s approach differed little from the Coalition’s. Neither side wanted Australia to be seen as a ”soft touch”; neither saw any need to lift Australia’s humanitarian intake.
The reality is, statistics show trends of asylum seekers coming to Australia largely follow those of the rest of the developed world, and that these trends are influenced more by where wars are fought than by immigration policy. This means that asylum seekers are not the political issue politicians make them out to be.
It is impossible to expect politicians to not opportunistically attack their opponents, but the media should remain independent of this. The term ‘boat people’ is disrespectful, ‘illegal immigrants’ is inaccurate and ‘queue jumpers’ is antagonizing. The current treatment of asylum seekers in the news is dehumanizing. When reports in 2001 came to then Opposition leader Kim Beazley that 535 asylum seekers had drowned, he said: “I don’t have the detail, but it’s a major human tragedy if that has occurred, and that is very sad indeed.” Regardless of political bias, the bottom line is that these are humans, and need to be treated as such by the press.
- Indonesia finds asylum seeker boat (abc.net.au)
- More Boats Mean More Asylum Seekers in Detention in Australia (iranianasylumseeker.wordpress.com)
- Asylum seeker stalemate continues despite Malaysia tragedy (theage.com.au)