South Sudanese youth feel 'held-back' by media stereotyping

Victoria's African community fear the continued "radicalised" reporting on youth crime could be stopping young people from reaching their full potential.

Clyde Sharady, CEO of African Media Australia

Clyde Sharady, CEO of African Media Australia Source: African Media Australia

Leaders within Victoria's African community are concerned about the long-term impact of what they believe is racial stereotyping by the media, saying young people are persistently portrayed in a negative light. 

"I'm really worried about the long-term effects, especially when it comes to employment, education and housing opportunities," Clyde Sharady, CEO of African Media Australia told SBS News. 

"[The opportunities] are there but they can't be accessed because people have these perceptions about Africans, which are incorrect, but they affect the way they interact with Africans.

"Even those who are doing really well in the community will end up facing these issues simply because the media continues to present a distorted image of the African community," he said. 

Media coverage has led to increased racial abuse

It comes in light of a , which examined how young South Sudanese Australians’ have been impacted by ongoing media coverage of ‘Apex’ and ‘African gangs.’

The study was a collaboration between the Victoria-based Centre for Multicultural Youth and researchers from Monash University and the University of Melbourne

Carmel Guerra, Chief Executive Officer at the Centre for Multicultural Youth says it was prompted by an increase in ‘radicalised’ crime reporting in the media since the 2016 Moomba riot.

“The concern was coming from community leaders and young people, telling me that South Sudanese young people in particular, were feeling really affected by what had happened,” she told SBS News.

Between November 2017 and April 2018, the research team spoke with young South Sudanese Australians, who described how media coverage has led to increased racial abuse in public settings.

Participants said they and their siblings had been subject to hate crimes on public transport and in public spaces, racial profiling by the police, increased surveillance at school from teachers, and increased scrutiny by parents and elders from the South Sudanese community.

"You still get stories from the community where people get insulted when walking in the local shopping centre, people get abused verbally, sometimes physically," said Mr Sharady. 

Detrimental impact on professional goals

The report found many of the participants felt the media narratives were blocking their ability to achieve their educational and professional goals. 

"The key things to come out of [the report] was that community members and young people felt the coverage of the Moomba riots and post-reporting really had a significant and detrimental impact on their lives and that the narrative was often inaccurate and causing harm," said Ms Guerra. 

"And the actions of a few young people [meant] the whole community was being blamed," she said. 

Ms Guerra acknowledged youth crimes are being committed in Victoria, but not to the extent that they warrant the kind of reporting that instils fear within the community. 

"I think they [the media] misrepresent and overstate the extent of crime," she said.

"One of the biggest challenges is community perceptions of fear that exists, which is out of proportion to the reality. Youth crime is on the decline, yes there are crimes that are scaring people but I think the media needs to be more responsible in their journalism and to provide accurate facts and this report points our numerous incidents where things are reported incorrectly."

Crime in Victoria
Crime in Victoria Source: SBS

Statistics from the Victoria Crime Agency show that at 71 per cent, Australian-born people represent the overwhelming majority of those committing crime in the state, while Sudanese-born represent just 1 per cent. 

"We do understand there are issues in the community, nobody is denying this but the media only seems to take interest in the issues in our communities and blow them out of proportion," said Mr Sharady.

"It means the rest of Australia can only perceive Africans, and South Sudanese in particular in that sort of frame of negativity and crime and violence.

"And the young people who are doing quite well, who are trying to navigate the system and trying to live a normal life, are having to jump a few more hurdles that they wouldn't have to if these negative reporting wasn't happening."

4 min read
Published 5 November 2018 at 9:22pm
By Abbie O'Brien