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    News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam

News Overboard: the Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam

A timely book by Iain Lygo

Five years ago, if anyone would have told me our government would use military force to deny refugees a chance to seek asylum in Australia. I would not have believed them.

Five years ago, if someone had told me the government would send asylum seekers to bankrupt Pacific states to be imprisoned beyond the scrutiny of Australian courts and the world's media, I would have told them they were crazy.

In John Howard's Australia, this basic denial of human rights not only goes unquestioned by much of the media, it is celebrated by the tabloid press and numerous shock jocks on commercial radio.

The launch of Iain Lygo's News Overboard

Iain Lygo's Speech at the book's launch

by Iain Lygo, author
Sydney, 10 March 2004
Melbourne, 12 March 2004

Related:

12 March 2004: News Overboard: The Tabloid Media, Race Politics, and Islam - Iain Lygo's book 'News Overboard' examines media and government manipulation of news relating to Muslims and refugees. "This book is a stinging left hook to far right columnists and shock jocks who are powerful political players masquerading as journalists."

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen,

Wasallam mu'alaikum,

Firstly I would like to acknowledge the Eora people, who are the original custodians of this area.

I would like to thank you for attending this launch and acknowledge a handful of people who have generously supported News Overboard.

Keysar Trad has offered fantastic support for this project. His quick replies to my requests have been an enormous help and I am proud that he has chosen to launch News Overboard.

I must thank Justice Marcus Einfeld for his contribution. I approached Justice Einfeld to do the foreword by leaving a message in his inbox on his mobile phone. A somewhat informal approach. His willingness to offer support to an unknown author undoubtedly stems from his absolute horror in the decline in basic human rights in this country.

I must also acknowledge my wife Louise, who unfortunately can't be here this evening, but without her love and support, News Overboard would never have been written.

I would also like to thank Bishop Manning for providing a call for religious tolerance that unfortunately could not be added to the text due to time constraints.

News Overboard is very much about breaking down barriers in our society, so I must acknowledge my Aunt the Reverend Susan Rose. My 'Auntie Susan' was in the first group of women to be ordained by the Anglican church in England. Despite dire predictions about the Church splitting and a mass exodus of parishioners, Susan Rose broke down barriers with her calm and rational approach in confronting irrational concerns. Susan and my parents offer a strong moral compass that I hope comes out in News Overboard.

Five years ago, if anyone would have told me our government would use military force to deny refugees a chance to seek asylum in Australia. I would not have believed them.

Five years ago, if someone had told me the government would send asylum seekers to bankrupt Pacific states to be imprisoned beyond the scrutiny of Australian courts and the world's media, I would have told them they were crazy.

In John Howard's Australia, this basic denial of human rights not only goes unquestioned by much of the media, it is celebrated by the tabloid press and numerous shock jocks on commercial radio.

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Not only do we face an unprecedented attack on human rights in this country, we also face an unprecedented assault on multiculturalism.

Guests at the Sydney launch
Guests at the Sydney launch of "News Overboard". On the left
author Iain Lygo, on the right Keysar Trad

Fifteen years ago Ron Casey stated on 2KY that

"It makes you feel like getting a dozen or so of your footy mates together and having a night down there test these little bastards right out."

Casey was referring to Chinatown, and the little bastards were new migrants to this country.

Back in 1988, the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal found that 2KY and Casey had breached racial vilification standards. What's more, many of Casey's sponsors withdrew financial support for the program and Casey was eventually taken off air.

That same year John Howard argued for less Asian immigration. Howard's statements were condemned by many of his own party members with four courageously crossing the floor of parliament. Howard was dumped as the leader of the Liberal Party not long after.

The 1970's and 80's can be considered the golden years of multiculturalism and Howard paid a very high political price for not being in tune with public opinion.

Fifteen years later many of us are scratching our heads wondering what has happened to this country.

In News Overboard, I have argued the attack on multiculturalism has come from three fronts.

Firstly on the political front. The rise of One Nation in the late 1990's saw disaffected voters looking for someone else to blame. Aboriginals and Asian Australians were the early scapegoats and Pauline Hanson offered a series of simplistic solutions.

By 2001 Muslims became the new bogeyman for Australian racists, and when the Howard government adopted Pauline Hanson's immigration policies and turned around the Tampa, One Nation was effectively finished.

Political commentator Laurie Oakes argued the campaign was dominated by dog whistle politics, in that the Tampa message was pitched at a level to attract the racist vote but he went unheard by many Australians.

I'd argue that the 2001 campaign saw racism move from the fringes of Australian society and become mainstream again.

On another front there are also a handful of academics who are also pushing anti-multiculturalism. These academics provide a perceived credibility to anti-multiculturalism, which is based on the economic rationalist principle of individualism rather than favouring any specific sector of society.

News Overboard concentrates on the third group of people pushing the anti-multiculturalists' agenda. The media, or more specifically the tabloid media.

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In 1988 Howard paid a very high political price for not having the support of the tabloid media. When the Tampa sailed onto the political scene he used a compliant media to drag his party back from certain electoral defeat.

Australia's media faces many problems, with the obvious one being the lack of ownership diversity in this country.

This of course increases the political clout of the big media corporations, but also decreases the level of scrutiny of unethical journalists.

The classic example of this is The Australians failure to immediately dismiss conservative commentator Janet Albrechtsen after her article 'Talking Race not racism'. In this article about gang rapes, Albrechtsen intentionally misquoted primary sources, and added the words 'white' before women and 'Muslim' before rapist.

Not only was Albrechtsen allowed to keep her job. The paper launched a campaign to defend the article and attack her critics.

The frightening thing about this is The Australian is the flagship of the Murdoch press in Australia. It is the tabloids where the real damage is being done.

What I have documented in News Overboard is truly disturbing, and I know that exposing some high profile media players will come at a great personal cost. I know I will be dragged across hot coals for daring to suggest that many of our leading media personalities hold deep-seated prejudices and use new racism to increase their ratings.

I will most likely be demonized by the tabloid media. While I don't welcome this, it will give me a new perspective of what it is like to be public enemy number one. I am sure many people in this room know what I am talking about.

The big question is, How do we stop Islam from being portrayed as public enemy number one?

In the current climate, with Sheik Hilaly being misquoted during his overseas trip, the retrial of a person convicted of gang rape, and another asylum seeker boat arriving at Ashmore reef, there will undoubtedly be a media feeding frenzy during the next week. I have no doubt Islam will be used as a binding mechanism for these unrelated stories.

There is also a clear trend that in the lead up to elections the amount of anti-Muslim media output increases.

Countering the tabloid media over the next few months requires a disciplined and coordinated campaign that calmly and rationally exposes those intent on creating divisions in society.

On a positive note News Overboard is just one of a handful of books hitting the shelves that question the media's treatment of Islam. Peter Manning has just managed to cross the line in first place by launching his book Dog Whistle Politics and Journalism just over an hour ago. Scott Poynting, Greg Nobel, Jock Collins and Paul Tabar will also be launching bin Laden in the Suburbs in the near future.

Dr Zachariah Matthews argues FAMSY needs to educate one journalist at a time. While this is a noble sentiment, there has to be an acknowledgement that many journalists are beyond help.

While these books will help reduce concerns about Islam, I am a firm believer that racial barriers are best broken down at a grass roots level.

Australia has a long history of vilifying newcomers to this country, but over time fears and concerns are alleviated by social interaction.

While the tabloid media create barriers for Muslims, a friendly handshake over a back fence and an invitation to a Halal BBQ can correct the misconceptions pushed by the tabloid media. Local sporting clubs, schools, and community festivals also provide fantastic opportunities for social interaction.

In the foreword to News Overboard Justice Einfeld writes about the battle for this country's 'soul'.

In multicultural Australia, we all have a part to play in this battle.

Iain Lygo

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