Journalism and Responsibility
On Monday 22nd of February, Paul Sheehan, an Australian reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) released a double page spread about an Australian woman named Louise. She claimed to have been brutally assaulted and raped by a group of men from a specific ethnic minority group. In the article the sub-heading stated, “We’ll never know the scale of the rape epidemic in Sydney”.
Louise’s story was later shown to be fictitious.
The article was then retracted by the SMH, but the stigma associated with the ethnic minority group is likely to remain, just like the stigma has remained with refugees and asylum seekers from the “Children Overboard Scandal”. The damage created by the media is difficult to reverse.
This is because such stories conjure up horrifying images in the minds of readers and whilst reading the article, the readers believe the information that they are consuming is fact. The initial shock value of these stories has a real affect in the mind of the reader; it virtually imprints itself like an un-washable stain.
The ABC’s “Media Watch” recently investigated the SMH report and showed an Australian woman speaking at a Reclaim Australia rally at Martin Place on April 4th 2015. This was Louise telling the same story that Sheehan reported in the SMH in February 2016. To call the story “news” is debatable.
To add insult to injury in this saga, the SMH printed a small apology (of 99 words) in the bottom corner of page 2 on the following Wednesday. That’s right: the lie takes up two pages and the truth gets 99 words.
The most basic form of modern racism makes people from minority ethnic backgrounds invisible. A more sinister form of racism makes people visible through negative acts.
Even if the SMH story was true it would still be a form of racism to nominate the ethnicity of the men because it’s really not important. If the story happened to be true, then the rapists are still rapists regardless of their ethnic or cultural background.
To make any impact on achieving racial equality, journalists need to play their role: to tell real stories as they happened, and without prejudice. After all, racism stops with every single one of us.