Fanning the flames of asylum seeker fear

Articles from Sydney's <i>Daily Telegraph</i>.

Articles from Sydney's Daily Telegraph.

Are you scared, yet? According to some media coverage of asylum seekers who arrive by boat, you should be.

The Daily Telegraph's coverage regularly evokes the idea that we are overwhelmed by - drowning in - a deluge of asylum seekers, despite the fact we only receive about 2 to 3 per cent of the global applications.

Their latest offering is the depersonalising term “human tide”:

“Abbott shuts the door on human tide”*,


“The payments are rich on refugee gravy boat - HUMAN TIDE”** 

Oh, and we can’t forget the “Asylum seeker armada” meme they seem keen to create***.

This is despite a press council ruling earlier this year, which found their use of the terms "invade" "open the floodgates" and "deluge" - in an earlier example of their coverage of the issue - was inaccurate and unfair.

Gee, I guess they learnt their lesson on that one.

So what does it matter? Well, quite a lot actually. We in the mainstream media like to think of ourselves as being a completely unbiased conduit of facts, and if we include opinion or interpretation of those facts it simply reflects the opinions of the mainstream.

But the reality is our interpretation of those facts is just as likely to shape mainstream opinion, as be shaped by it.

It’s a complicated, murky process, so it’s not always easy to unpick. But it seems clear that the studies that have been done indicate this type of media coverage actually makes people more scared of, and more opposed to, refugees.

Research consistently shows that when it comes to outsiders, we are easily influenced by perceptions of real and symbolic threat, and we are more likely to exhibit physical fear responses to people not of our own race.

Refugees, particularly when they are described as a homogenous “human tide”, are clearly outsiders.

Articles that focus on the money given to asylum seekers don’t help. This study found people who perceived refugees as a resource threat were also more likely to have prejudicial attitudes.****

While this one found Australians were extremely reliant on media reporting when it comes to forming their views on asylum seekers. Only a quarter of people surveyed thought asylum seekers come to Australia to flee persecution, as opposed to for economic or other reasons.

People – educated or not – tend to be influenced by the media they consume, and when the media obsessively focuses on an issue such as immigration or refugees, political parties who take extreme positions on those issues tend to gain popularity.

So next time you wonder why boat arrivals are such as massive issue in Australia, or next time you feel anger or fear over asylum seekers, take another look at your local newspaper headline. It might not just be reflecting your fear, it could be shaping it. 

*The online version omits the word “human”

** This article informs us that “A single parent with four or more children could receive as much as $706” a fortnight. Wow! $700 for five people over two weeks … BEFORE rent. What a gravy boat! Where do I get myself some of those sweet federal $$$?! You could almost ( … oh, alright, probably not) eat THREE MEALS A DAY with that cash bonanza!

*** This term has been printed about eight times over the past few years. ar·ma·da  /är’mädə/: Noun. “A fleet of warships”.

****An interesting aside: almost every study I looked at on this issue found men had more negative beliefs about asylum seekers than women. I wonder why that is?


  • Excellent article, a pity we dont have any politciians with "balls" to ignore the bias, racism and hysteria against the samll number of refugees we get in Australia compared to the rest of the world, unfortunately people enjoy being told they are being swamped by foreigners who will do nasty things to them and their families and change their way of life for ever as it only re-inforces the prejudices they already have

    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 8:18AM
    • As I see it, the problem most people have with illegal immigrants or immigrants in general is their lack of interest in integrating. Meaning that: they want to live here and be Australian, but not actually call themselves Australians or give any thought to what that might mean for their identity. It's really a lack of respect for a place they chose to live. They want to be called Australians when it suits them and not the rest of the time. So as far as I'm concerned anyone who wants to be Australian--I don't care, but if you're going to be Australian, then be Australian.

      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 12:32PM
    • +1 vaitsasc!! And Tony - no worries bloke! Come around to my wiltja and my mob will dance a welcome to country before we all chow down on a nice bit of roasted roo... ;)

      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 3:34PM
    • The worst purveyors of racism and xenophobia is 'A Current Affair'. When you have Pauline Hanson dispensing advice while a journalist claims Australia is being invaded by Asians, you have a recipe for hatred. ACA serves it up in spades.

      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 5:56PM
    • To Tony, I'd like to see you immigrate abroad and "integrate" and give up being an "Australian", it's not easy nor natural. I was born in Australia to Italian parents who integrated very well - despite the racism they faced -they gave up their Italian citizenship to become Australian but if you ask them their nationality they will always say they are Italian - because that is what they are. I've been living in Italy 20 years and have dual citizenship but I still say, and feel in my heart, that I am Australian. I think I have integrated well into a different society but I am always different, integration works both ways - you have to be accepted and accepting....but please let's forget this whole "but if you're going to be Australian, then be Australian".

      Trieste, Italy
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 6:33PM
  • I think that if more people read "The People Smuggler" by Robin De Crespigny and were able to empathise with the people who come to Australia via boats, there would be a lot less of the articles described in this post and more demanding a review of Australia's current policies and practices.

    Date and time
    December 13, 2012, 9:00AM
    • I'm constantly amazed at why a large majority of people are so anti asylum seekers from places we are actually at war with such as Afghanistan. These people are fleeing for their lives, they can't rock up to an airport and get on a plane. Tony Abbot insists on calling them illegal when there ain't nothing illegal about seeking asylum, always thought it was a basic human right.

      Ms Patonga
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 9:27AM
      • Abbotts mantra appeal to the disengaged, the u educated, the MSM devotees.
        Our media treatment is worse than the hell hole of Nauru.
        this article is refreshing.
        Blame can be cast back on JWH for the politicisation of asylum seekers/refugees.
        I'm ashamed again.

        A country gal
        Date and time
        December 13, 2012, 3:09PM
      • I think that there is a large amount of xenophobia and exclusive nationalism in Australia which I think blinkers a large portion of the populace and dare I say it the media lets face it if we had a dollar for every piece of poor and inaccurate media reporting we saw we would be rich. As the old adage goes don't let the facts get in the way of a good story and I think that everyone needs to mindful of this, after all we are dealing with peoples lives here.

        Having said that I read an article similar to this one about 18 months ago (don't ask me where) which promulgated the same line but as with that article and what will in all likelyhood be the case with this article is that nothing will change and the hysterical bylines and shrieking I'm afraid will continue to eventually the detriment of us all as a nation

        John the Baptist
        Date and time
        December 13, 2012, 3:17PM
    • Every time I hear the words "Daily Telegraph headline" I reach for my revolver.

      Red Pony
      Date and time
      December 13, 2012, 9:32AM

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