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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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