“Erasing refugees”: Hot topic at politics and journalism election forum

Refugees, climate change, and gender were the focus of the recent election and remain a contentious issue in Australian politics and journalism. As an invited member of this panel, BOb’s Professor Sharon Pickering presented her research findings on how refugees were portrayed by the media during the recent election at the Public Forum “Politics and Journalism: what was that all about?,” hosted by the Journalism Department of Monash University last week.

 Listen to the Public Forum here.

During her presentation, Professor Pickering explained how the tactics of the 2013 election mirrored those employed in the 2001 election, using similar criminal justice language and logics, based on deterrence, security, and refugee deviancy.

Arguing both Labour and Liberal candidates were attempting to erase refugees, Professor Pickering identified three ways this was done in the recent election: by erasing the existence of refugees, by erasing the category of refugee, and by erasing a future for refugees.

Erasing the existence of refugees refers to the deaths which occur along the border. Erasing the category of refugee was endeavoured by using terms like ‘illegal arrival’ and ‘economic migrants’. The future has been erased for refugees by reinstating offshore detention and temporary protection visas. She argued this framework was immediately embraced by journalists and the mainstream media which further endorsed these actions and language by politicians.

Pointing out how boat arrivals were no longer going to be publicly record under PM Abbott, she reasoned that this was further erasing refugees from the Australian public’s eye and made a call for the transparency of border actions to protect and make visible the refugees who encounter them.

Kerry-Anne Walsh, a long time journalist and the author of The Stalking of Julia Gillard (Allen and Unwin, 2013), and Professor Wendy Bacon, journalist from the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and a professor at the University of Technology Sydney, also presented at the forum.

Ms. Walsh discussed  gender, politics, and the media, with a specific focus on the difference between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd’s interactions and reactions with media,  which caused PM Gillard to be portrayed negatively while Rudd restoration remained a centre piece.

Professor Bacon focused on how climate change was negatively portrayed by specific journalists who fed into the ignorance of the public and how this was tied into the political agenda of the Liberal party.

The Forum was chaired by Professor Chris Nash from Monash University whose work on journalism as an intellectual discipline helped to guide the panel.

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