Skip to main content

The Racial Hatred Act: the media and racial hatred

the media and racial hatred

One of NIRV's conclusions was that "the perpetuation and promotion
of negative racial stereotypes, a tendency towards conflictual and sensationalist
reporting on race issues and an insensitivity towards and often ignorance
of minority cultures can all contribute to creating a social climate which
is tolerant of racist violence".

The Commission recognises the pivotal role the media plays in helping
to shape Australia's sense of community and the way in which it reflects
and sometimes drives the debate around major issues.

As a significant player in the public arena, it is inevitable that some
complaints under the legislation will be directed towards the media. While
the media has a right and indeed an obligation to report on race issues,
it also has a responsibility to exercise impartiality, accuracy and balance
in reporting.

There is no uniform regulatory standard which covers all forms of media.
The Racial Hatred Act merely reinforces many of the professional and regulatory
standards that apply to the media, such as the Australian Press Council's
Statement of Principles, broadcasting codes and the Journalists' Code of
Ethics. The Act is aimed at preventing the following examples of malicious
or gratuitous vilification, as well as a whole range of public acts that
are based on racial hatred which occur within our community.

Consider the following inflammatory comment made by a Sydney radio announcer
in response to a caller's complaint about a Chinese restaurant:

"It makes you feel like getting a dozen
or so of your footballing mates together and have a night down there and
sort these little bastards out."

The announcer also made references to staff in Chinese restaurants as
"chinks" and "weeds" and referred to Japanese people
as "rotten little slant eyed devils to the North screwing us down".

Complaints about the comments were upheld by the Australian Broadcasting
Tribunal as a breach of its radio program standards. The Tribunal made
an order that future broadcasts by the announcer be subject to a ten second
time delay so that comments could be edited if necessary. Failure to comply
rendered the station liable to non-renewal of its licence.

Such overt incitement of racial hatred or violence in the media is rare.
However, abuse of the following kind is not:

A newspaper article entitled 'Ethnic Invasion on Dogs' bemoaned the
multicultural support base of a Sydney rugby league club. The article spoke
of the need to "spot the Aussie... because there were not too many
of them", that there was only one "home grown product on the
field", that the remaining composition of the team was a "sad
state of affairs", and that football commentators would need to "take
language lessons to get their tongues around players' names".

This guide acknowledges the importance of the media's role and illustrates
how possible breaches of the law can be avoided. It also raises broader
issues for your consideration. It is intended to highlight the responsibilities
that come with working within the Racial Hatred Act.