• Daily Mail, 2018: Is Australia on a slippery slope towards its own form of apartheid? (Facebook / Daily Mail)Source: Facebook / Daily Mail
OPINION: The Daily Mail sacks over swear words, but slams Indigenous services. Where is cultural safety in journalism?, asks writer Karen Wyld.
Karen Wyld

20 Apr 2018 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 20 Apr 2018 - 4:04 PM

Middle-market tabloid, the Daily Mail has caught the eye of a few Australians this week. And, as we all have different worldviews and interests, the reason why is not necessarily homogeneous.

I usually avoid tabloid news, especially those that use dramatic headings as lures, but against my better judgement I located and read the article.

I found a clear lack of balance in this piece lengthly titled, “Is Australia on a slippery slope towards its own form of apartheid? How the roll-out of Aboriginal-only services is driving a dangerous racial wedge between the indigenous and the rest of Australia”, which surmises that the provision of study rooms in universities, hospital waiting rooms and targeted health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a type of segregation.

What motivated this news outlet to write such a racially-biased broadside? Was the discussion at the editorial meeting that morning to turn conspiracy theories into an article? Curious, to get a better understanding of this digital-based media outlet, I read a lot of Daily Mail content. It was an unpleasant experience. And I wondered: how much pressure is put on journalists to write controversy for clicks? 

The piece in question defined conservation of environmentally-fragile cultural sites, strategies to increase Indigenous employment, equitable law reform, and improved engagement with government as examples of “…'driving a dangerous racial wedge' between Australia's many cultures.” 

To back up this claim, author, Josh Hanrahan, writes: “High-profile indigenous leaders and public affairs experts warn there has been a deliberate move over the past decade to divide the public over race.”

These leaders and experts are, David Leyonhejelm, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones, who are concerned about Indigenous services “…being a throwback to '1950s racism' - the beginning of apartheid…”

So too is Warren Mundine, a political commentator and Bundjalung man, who expresses a derisive view that “inner-city folk” are pushing their agendas “… at the expense of the real needs of the wider indigenous community.”

And lastly, Simon Breheny, Director of the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), who —it should be recognised— is running a widely recognised corporate-funded right-wing “think tank”, only reinforcing the bias in this article.

In relation to unfounded fears of ‘cultural wars’, Breheny dramatically states: “I think this is the end point of identity politics... and it looks very much like the worst parts of Apartheid and systems based on separation. That's certainly not to say Australia is an apartheid country, that is an absurd thing to say, but it doesn't even need to get to that point for there to be controversy.”

Are journalists forgetting their training in media ethics or is the urge to make a name for oneself by writing edgy right-wing pieces too tempting?

Hanrahan of the Daily Mail, is certainly not the only journalist in the industry producing this type of work, but I am curious why one in their early-career would stray from producing a mixed-bag of non-descript articles to this ineffective attempt at race baiting. Are journalists forgetting their training in media ethics or is the urge to make a name for oneself by writing edgy right-wing pieces too tempting? Many Australian journalists and commentators have forged lucrative careers by promoting discriminatory views, so there is precedence.

Since the UK-based Mail Online set up offices in Australia four years ago (publishing as Daily Mail Australia), they’ve not put out much content about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This article was the only one I found that was, to put it mildly, insensitive towards Indigenous people. However, in recent times, Daily Mail has been criticised by police for inciting violence towards African Australians, and threatened with legal action for defamation after accusing two Muslim Australian workers in media of sympathising with terrorists.

Despite such concerns, this week we have learned that swearing is unacceptable at the Daily Mail, in which journalist April Glover was sacked on Monday after she accidentally published her “musings” about reality television contestants being “vapid c****”.

Glover should not have been fired. This is not just opinion, but demonstrated by the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA) who are taking a quick, firm stand on this reactionary dismissal, calling it "harsh, unjust and unreasonable."

The MEAA further stated, “We are increasingly concerned that the management of digital media publishers are abandoning the practices of good journalism, placing intolerable pressure upon their employees.”

Hanrahan could be argued as victim to such practice, given the quotes that back up his piece are not from conducted interviews, but pulled from other news sources. It could also explain the piece's poor research, with its glaring inaccuracies that should have been picked up in the editorial process. So too does it indicate an expectation for journalists to write about subjects outside of their expertise.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should not be used as click-bait. A media outlet more known for snarky celebrity-watching and sensationalised reporting should not be applying this same style of writing to discuss Australian politics, Indigenous services and human rights. Such subjects require a highly skilled, unbiased and well-researched approach. 

A media outlet more known for snarky celebrity-watching and sensationalised reporting should not be applying this same style of writing to discuss Australian politics, Indigenous services and human rights.

I’ve already written about some of Hanrahan’s inaccuracies via Indigenous X, and outlined the importance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services. However, to unpack the issue further, it is important to note that this article is part of a recent trend we are continuing to see in commercial radio, television and print media that misrepresents Indigenous health and cultural safety, both in their product and behind the scenes.

Cultural safety has had positive, evidence-based outcomes in sectors such as health and education. As such, it would be good to see it applied to the media sector. Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (CATSINaM), leaders in cultural safety in Australian health, suggested this in an submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Future of Public Interest Journalism.

Why? Because no one should be subjected to racism when reading an article, turning on the news, or while on social media.

Reducing racism, bigotry and other forms of discrimination in media isn’t easy, but it is essential. Tackling racism is much more than educating people. Change needs to occur within the media sector: within workplaces, journalism courses, codes and policies. Individuals working in media also need to change. Adopting the core principles of cultural safety will support these changes.

As a MEAA member, I’d like to see my union doing more to reduce the racism I witness and experience. As a freelance writer I work from home, but my rights are no less important than staff working in newsrooms.

I use Twitter for professional and personal reasons. There are many positives, but negatives alongside. One being that whenever media publishes/broadcasts something negative or controversial about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we often become targets of abuse on social media.

To better protect all members’ rights at work, MEAA needs to be more proactive in combatting racism amongst both their members and within media outlets. With better industry and workplace support, perhaps early-career journalists like Hanrahan won’t stray into the type of bigotry that a growing number of media have built their reputations on.

And if this support isn’t there, the more discerning consumers of media will continue to drift away from publishers of problematic media. Because they need to be shown that, as Māori filmmaker Taika Waititi says, there’s no benefit whatsoever to being racist.

Karen Wyld is a freelance writer, author, and consultant of Martu heritage. Follow Karen @1KarenWyld