Danielle Ghazi

Racial Bias: Media coverage only skin deep

Image: AAP

A friend told me recently she was considering modifying her accent to help further her career.

Perplexed, I asked her why.

She replied, “No one on the news sounds like a wog.”

I’m sure at that point my eyebrows furrowed into such a strong line that a rugby league player wouldn’t have been able to break through.

I couldn’t understand why she would think such a thing would hurt her career prospects, especially because it was not true. For as long as I’ve known her I’ve thought of her as an intelligent and well-spoken person. Apart from the traditional pronunciation of words like “feta” and “Kalamata”, her accent is that of anyone born and raised here. Australia is a melting pot of various cultures, so an inflection in one’s accent here and there basically comes with the territory.

So why did she suddenly think her supposedly “wog” accent would hinder her chances of following in the steps of someone like, say, Lisa Wilkinson?

The Australian media has always been a major force in helping to shape the way we perceive things and, whether we like it or not, it plays a definitive role in swaying our opinions.

Has the issue of asylum seekers ever bothered you before?

Read a couple of articles from The Daily Telegraph and you’ll be screaming, “Infestation!”

Read about criminal activity in almost any newspaper and you may find yourself casting a suspicious eye on the next person who looks to be “of Middle Eastern appearance.”

Obviously not all Australians fall into this trap. Most of us are proud of the diversity within this great country. However, the minority of bigots lurking about have a distinctive way of latching onto the racial bias peppered throughout our newspapers.

I often read stories where a subject’s ethnicity is brought up within the first few lines, or if it has not been immediately mentioned, it is thrown into the middle of the story as a sort of afterthought.

“The Lebanese man was arrested early Monday morning at his home in…”

If a person has not done anything specifically relevant to their cultural heritage, why do we feel the need to label them according to their ethnic background? Why do media outlets feel the need to point out that an assailant apprehended by police was Indian or Chinese or Sudanese?

It’s to feed the hungry bigots who wait for these papers to throw them a piece of meat so they can tear it apart and scream, “See! The has done it again!”, because if one person has done something wrong, why not throw the entire ethnic group under the bus!

Therein stands what I feel is a major problem in the Australian media – racial bias.

Skimming through The Daily Telegraph some time ago, I came across their Street Watch section where they give a rundown of some of the crimes committed across Sydney. My morbid fascination led me to read through them all, and by the end of it I was shaking my head, both at the crimes committed and the way they were being reported.

A report of theft in one area had the description of the offender as “being of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean appearance”, then went on to describe other typical features like height, build and clothing. Yet in a report on an attempted robbery in another area, this time involving three men, no mention of their assumed ethnic background was reported. Only their approximate age, height, build and clothing. Is the assumption here that they were Caucasian and so a more accurate description of the colour of their skin is unnecessary? Are they somehow more Australian than the man described as being ‘Middle Eastern or Mediterranean’?

Though I do understand the need for a precise description of offenders, why do reporters pick and choose which ethnicity needs to be specifically named?

It’s as though they’ve all been mentored by Alan Jones or Ron Casey.

Looking at the bigger picture, I guess I can’t blame my friend for thinking she should tailor her accent to better fit into the mould crafted by our media and to thus avoid her perceived racial bias. It has a way of playing on our insecurities and feeding the underlying fear of the unknown – if something doesn’t fit the established idea of the norm, then it is seen as the ‘Other’.

I only wish that I had thought to mention people like Jeremy Fernandez and Waleed Aly, who have carved successful careers for themselves in the Australian media and have seemed to escape such racial bias.

Maybe she would think twice about whether tweaking her accent is entirely necessary.

Danielle Ghazi

Danielle Ghazi is a Sydney-based writer with a slight Stephen King obsession and an intense passion for playing Sudoku. When she's not complaining about her writer’s block to anyone who will listen, she can be found ripping out the Sudoku from the daily papers before anyone else can get to them.

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