Sunday, May 20, 2007

OPINION: Australians shrug off inflammatory racism

The phrase "only in America" is often used Downunder to scoff at the eccentricity of Americans. But sometimes American media and politicians show more good sense than eccentricity.

In one incident involving racism and sexism of a major media personality, the Yanks have certainly shown more good sense than the Aussies.

In the United States, popular talkback host Don Imus soon discovered the cost of making racist and sexist slurs. After describing the mostly black women's basketball team at Rutgers University as "nappy-headed hos", civil rights and anti-racism campaigners immediately went into action. They could tell a slur when they heard one. They knew that the term "nappy" was used to describe the tightly-curled natural hair texture of many African-Americans.

Rallies and protests were organised, one led by African-American civil rights leader Al Sharpton outside the NBC offices. Sharpton told protesters ...

None of us has the right to use the public airways in the way that Mr Imus has done.

Later, in an interview with Imus, Sharpton expressed the views of many Americans:

You have anchormen from network news, you have senators, you have presidential candidates that come on your show. Are we saying that it is acceptable in the middle of these kinds of candidates and anchormen for you to call my daughter a ho?
Major corporations withdrew millions of dollars in advertising, and big names Procter & Gamble and General Motors pulled advertisements from Imus' show.

Imus was no small-time talkback host - politicians have used his programme to announce their presidential nominations.

Imus has been dropped from radio and other programmes.

Let's compare the treatment of Imus with his Sydney equivalent, shock-jock Channel 9 Today Show editorial commentator Alan Jones.

In the lead-up to the December 2005 race riots in the southern Sydney suburb of Cronulla, Jones and his colleagues on Sydney talkback radio station 2GB made a series of broadcasts which contributed to the worst race riots experienced in Sydney.

The Cronulla riots were brought about by rumours that Middle East youths from outside the area had assaulted two lifeguards.

In the days leading up to the riots, Jones and his colleagues read out inflammatory and racist e-mails and fielded racist phone calls.

Jones didn't use his delay switch to stop the broadcast of racist slurs and threats of violence. He seemed oblivious to the racism inherent in the emails he read out, sometimes even endorsing their contents.

In one broadcast, Jones endorsed the view that ...

... biker gangs be present at Cronulla railway station when these Lebanese thugs arrive ... it would be worth the price of admission to watch these cowards scurry back on to the train for the return trip to their lairs ...
and that ...

... we don't have Anglo-Saxon kids out there raping women in western Sydney.
One letter Jones read on air said ...

These Middle Eastern people must be treated with a big stick. It's the only thing they fear. They don't fear fines and they laugh at the courts.
One of Jones' colleagues described Lebanese as being "inbred" and having low IQs.

Unlike Imus, Jones' remarks have been commented on by an official law enforcement report and an independent commercial radio watchdog. The Australian Communications and Media Authority found that Alan Jones, on the eve of the Cronulla riots, made comments "likely to encourage violence or brutality" or "vilify" people of Middle East background.

Imus was apologetic about his on-air slurs, but Jones chose to pass judgment on the authority. He made a series of deeply offensive personal on-air attacks on authority chairman Chris Chapman, saying he "had more jobs than I've had feeds". It takes a high level of hubris to do this before the authority had even issued its punishment.

But then why should Jones feel threatened? Unlike their American counterparts' responses to Imus, Australian politicians are rushing to Jones' defence.

Labor Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said there was nothing in the authority's decision that would cause him to stop appearing on the Jones show.

And Communications Minister Helen Coonan, after praising Jones, called for commercial radio to suggest changes to the code so that it ...

... best reflects community standards.
Prime Minister John Howard suggested that Jones ...

... represents the views of a lot of people on a lot of issues.
That suggests that the Government considers that a broadcasting code should allow broadcasters to incite violence and brutality against certain undesirable ethnic groups as this reflects community standards and is in accord with what a lot of Australians think.

No major Australian companies have even threatened to withdraw advertising or sponsorship from Jones' programme or from his radio station.

Yes, yes. I can hear from my Sydney office what you are all saying in New Zealand: "Only in Australia."

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer and writer. First published in the NZ Herald on 10 May 2007.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked