EDITORIAL THURSDAY 08.07.10.
I’m beginning to get a little weary of shrill stories in the tabloid television shows about illegal asylum seekers being given four star holidays in Queensland at the taxpayers’ expense. These beat ups usually include some sneaky shots of people trying to avoid being filmed, automatically making them appear to be furtive, and the inevitable comparisons to our own pensioners and disadvantaged who supposedly have no hope of ever receiving similar treatment. It is easy to get the impression that the TV stations want us to think that asylum seekers, almost always referred to as “these people” with a distasteful tone, are unfairly taking advantage of our good will at the expense of more deserving pensioners and hardworking taxpayers. It’s easy to get the impression that they are sounding the alarm about some gross injustice. It’s easy to get the impression that the TV stations are pumping out propaganda for a certain point of view. But they’re not. The truth is even more disappointing than that.
Just as some politicians are more than prepared to tell us whatever they think we want to hear in order to attract our votes, television stations are first and foremost motivated by attracting an audience. It’s a business, and in order to make money selling advertising time, they need to have sufficient numbers of people actually watching to make that time valuable enough to sell. If it’s boring, no one will watch, and sometimes the truth alone is not exciting enough. That’s why we are subjected to sensationalism in all its many forms in what we know as the tabloid media. That’s why we never just have a leadership challenge, we have a “political showdown”. Instead of a change of leadership, we have a “political execution”. And instead of displaced persons seeking refuge, we have “illegal asylum seekers”. It’s just so much more dramatic, not to mention a catchy and easy-to-remember way to pigeon hole a complex situation.
Of course such treatment amounts to far more than mere oversimplification. It’s dangerously jingoistic, not to mention a flat out misrepresentation of the facts. Aside from the Orwellian newspeak such as “illegal asylum seeker”, which is actually an oxymoron because there is nothing illegal about asking for asylum, the idea that helping a handful of refugees in some way deprives old age pensioners and disadvantaged Australians is utterly illogical. The fact that our pensioners are struggling to make ends meet, or that homeless Australians are sleeping rough, is not the fault of asylum seekers or refugees. It is the fault of governments who have failed to address the needs of those people, and of the community which allows it to happen. The truth is that this not a choice between helping pensioners or helping refugees. In a wealthy, free, and democratic society we can and should be doing both.
Far from representing the humane treatment of refugees as some sort of shameful waste of taxpayers’ money, our tabloid media should be telling us to be proud of our commitment to be fair and just, proud of our willingness to extend comfort to the vulnerable, and proud of our ability care for those less fortunate than ourselves. But of course, the unfortunate reality is that television stations, and other media outlets, like politicians, have a vested interest in beating up a non-existent crisis, sensationalizing the story, distorting or even discarding the facts, and telling people what they want to hear, if it means a few more votes or a few more ratings points. That’s why we shouldn’t always take as “gospel” everything we see or hear, whether it is from politicians or the media, without thinking carefully about what we are being told. The good news is that this really is a free country, and some of us in the media have the opportunity to present a different point of view. You might not agree with it, but at least you can hear it or read it and decide for yourself.
That’s just another reason why Australia really is the best place in the world.