Not Racist?

First the PM, and now Peter Costello and Maurice Iemma, they all say that "Australia is not a racist country." It is as if repeating the refrain will somehow transform our current grim reality.

Costello’s other claim is that the media – including Alan Jones – didn’t "whip" anything up.

"I think racism can be easily whipped up in Australia," Mr
Costello said.

"I don’t think there’s racism on the street, no, I think we’re a
very accepting country," he told ABC Radio.

Sydney talkback radio personalities, including Macquarie Radio’s
Alan Jones, have been accused of fuelling racial tensions in the
wake of the recent Cronulla riot.

Asked if he thought Jones "went too far", Mr Costello said he
did not.

"That’s not what I mean by whipping up," Mr Costello said.

"I think it can be fanned if gangs of youths come into a
neighbourhood and try and take it over. That can fan racism.

"If people, say, get down and launch an attack, a counter-attack
on gangs of youths, they can whip it up. It can be whipped up from
both sides."

So racism can "easily" be whipped up. But we are not a racist country. Racism is "fanned" if gangs of youth come into a neighbourhood and try "to take it over". It is an example of the strange political double speak that is reported constantly in the media without comment.

Apart from his claims of gangs trying to "take over" neighbourhoods, Costello’s metaphor is telling. You fan a fire only if there are simmering coals. On a day to day basis much of Australia is indeed an accepting kind of place but there are always those simmering coals waiting to be fanned by someone who doesn’t belong stepping into the wrong neighbourhood.

It seems like the public is not being hoodwinked. A poll indicates that large number agree with the PM’s statement that the recent events in Cronulla don’t reflect a racist reality in this country.

The Herald Poll reveals deep concerns about the long-term
impact of the riots: 59 per cent of respondents believe the
violence at Cronulla and other Sydney beaches would damage
Australia’s international reputation. Only 38 per cent think
Australia’s image has not been tarnished.

The results are in stark contrast to John Howard’s statement
following the Cronulla riots: "I do not accept there is underlying
racism in this country."

According to the poll, 75 per cent of respondents disagree with
Mr Howard’s statement and 22 per cent agree.

The proportion of people who believe there is an undercurrent of
racism was highest among minor party and independent voters (84 per
cent) and Labor voters (76 per cent). However, more than two-thirds
of Coalition voters – 68 per cent – also disagreed with Mr

The poll found people were more comfortable with immigration
levels than they were immediately after the Tampa crisis. Only 33
per cent polled over the weekend by ACNielsen considered the
current intake "too high" compared with 41 per cent in September

The number of people who thought immigration levels were too low
climbed by one point to 11 per cent.

The poll revealed 81 per cent backing for multiculturalism.

By the way this is what Alan Jones said when he wasn’t either whipping up or fanning. He urged a local show of force:

"A rally, a street march, call it what you will.
A community show of force," he told listeners, at one point even going
so far as to push for locals at Cronulla to get Pacific Islanders
involved because "they don’t take any nonsense".

Indeed it’s time for all of us to show that we wont be taking any nonsense.

It takes a riot

It takes a riot to get Australian news into the world media.

This week we even made SF Gate’s World Views with the unflattering headline: "Australia’s Leb Bashings" the other piece in the column this week was on the international reaction to the US torture policy – fine comapnion pieces:

War, bombings and torture in other places are the routine stuff of
headlines, but this past weekend, sun worshippers at Cronulla Beach in
Sydney, Australia, got a taste of a different kind of violence — the
homemade kind. Reportedly provoked by assaults about a week ago on two
lifeguards at the beach by youths described as being of "Middle Eastern
appearance," Sunday’s race riots involved what papers called "thousands of
drunken youths." (BBC/Daily Telegraph/Courier-Mail)

A number of commentators have compared the situation in Cronulla with the recent riots outside Paris. But Gary Sauer-Thompson makes a key distinction:

The race riots at Cronulla
on the weekend bring the Australian Right into the foreground. The
riots can be connected to what recently happened in France. I agree
with Andrew Norton over at Catallaxy
that the Cronulla violence is similar to the most recent Sydney riots
at Macquarie Fields and Redfern. In both the French and Sydney cases
the base economic issues are clear: poorly educated young people
fuelled by anger, dispossession and booze/drugs, low incomes and poor
job prospects, turning tribal.

However,what happened Cronulla is also different from the events in
France. Cronulla turned tribal and became racist, without the police or
the political authorities fueling racism, which is what happened in France.

The other key distinction is that the media in both countries have behaved very differently as the Australian Media section reported on Thursday:

French media had a rather novel ethical
approach to covering the recent Paris race riots after the images
reached saturation point: they simply stopped showing them.

Incensed critics have labelled the move censorship, accusing
the French media of political biases and an over-inflated sense of
power. Yet others have seen the move as an indication that the media –
a powerful social force — could also possess a social conscience.

"We have a unique situation in France at the moment. Because
events have been continuing for some weeks, we have the time to
consider the impact of our reporting," says Antonin Lhote, chief editor
at Canal Plus, one of France’s privately owned television stations.

"Often when we film something, we are unaware of its impact until later. Our job is simply to witness.

"But here we have the unique opportunity to consider what the images mean and whether they should be shown."

The difference, Lhote says, is that the station has decided not
to show the images it obtains for fear of spreading what he calls a
contagion through the thoughtless dissemination of the images.

"It’s not about the violence," he says. "Iraq, Tel Aviv,
Pakistan … these are all much more violent images. But they are news.
This is not news; it is a show. We know there can be a perverse
relationship between young men and the media, and they are giving us
beautiful pictures … things burning, people running around in the
night, it looks wonderful. But what we want to do is draw the
distinction between spectaculars and news."

Images of cronulla


It is interesting to look at the evolution of the press images of the Cronulla riots.

Last Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald published a very provactive image of a defiant ozzie – literally a true blue singlet wearing sufie.

This week we have an attempt to represent something of the multicultural efforts at reconcilliation.

It seems to me that last week’s image was an invitation to riot.

Hopefully this week’s image is an invitation to dialogue.

Hopefully it also reflects some growing self awareness in the media that news organisations must contribute to social cohesian not just report social unrest.