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Phillips

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									The representation of cultural diversity in Australia’s television
news: Past imperfect, present tense, future conditional

Dr Gail Phillips
Associate Professor, School of Media Communication and Culture
Murdoch University


Abstract

This paper presents the results of a first-time longitudinal study of Australia’s television news,
focusing in particular on how it represents and reflects Australia’s cultural diversity. Wherever we
live when any of us go outside our front door we become part of a multicultural throng. Australia
is a country which has absorbed and continues to absorb wave upon wave of people from all
parts of the world. After the displacing of the aboriginal inhabitants with the coming of the British
settlers the country opened its doors to the predominantly European migrants of the post war
period, who were followed in their turn by people from Asian countries in the second half of the
last century, and now by people from the Middle East and Africa. However you would never
guess this if you were watching our television news every evening. A content analysis of
Australia’s television news services reveals that rather than representing Australia as it really is, it
instead perpetuates the myth of an idealised Anglo Australia in the full blond-haired, blue-eyed
white picket fence tradition. People from different ethnic backgrounds, far from being normalised,
tend to be featured mostly as in some way abnormal: either as threats to the social order, or as
victims of it. The past wasn’t perfect: the 2001 content analysis which pre-dated 9/11 showed
minimal amounts of what could be classified as culturally diverse content. The tensions of the
present are reflected in the 2005 survey where Australia, like the rest of the world, is gripped by
an anti- Muslim panic in the wake of 9/11 and the War on Terror. By 2007 the panic has abated
somewhat, and it is almost business as usual with non-Anglo content closer to 2001 levels.
However this only throws into starker relief the way non-Anglo Australians are portrayed. If they
enter the news at all it is as deviants or as passive victims of misfortune, hardly ever as the
average person-on-the-street. While this pattern of representation is encouraged by the nature of
the medium itself - its routines and journalistic practices – the journalists and their editors cannot
escape responsibility for the result. No matter what is needed for a ‘good’ story in television
terms it is hard to justify the way in which non-Anglo Australians are either ignored altogether,
demonised or patronised. The future of quality news is conditional on the industry acknowledging
this failure of practice and working proactively to diversify both its journalism staff and its content.

								
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