Dog Whistle Politics and Journalism

About this Item
SubjectsBooks; Press; Media; Islam
SpeakersLynch Mr Paul
BusinessPrivate Members Statements

Page: 9106

    Mr PAUL LYNCH (Liverpool) [12.45 p.m.]: I wish to advise the House about matters of great importance to many of my constituents. In particular, they involve issues in an important book published this year by Peter Manning entitled Dog Whistle Politics and Journalism. Abe Quadan, a constituent of mine and a well-known and well-respected member of the Liverpool community, gave me a copy of that book, accompanied by a warm endorsement. The author of the monograph is Peter Manning, adjunct professor of journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney [UTS] and a part-time teacher. Peter Manning is a former Sydney Morning Herald reporter, a former head of news and current affairs at ABC television, and a former head of current affairs at Seven Network. The book was published by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and by UTS.

    The title of the monograph refers to dog-whistle politics. A quote from journalist Mike Steketee is used to define dog-whistle politics as "where a subliminal message, not literally apparent in the words used, is heard by sections of the community". Manning analyses the news coverage of the Sydney Morning Herald, including the Sun-Herald, and the Daily Telegraph, including the Sunday Telegraph, for a two-year period—being the 12 months before and the 12 months after 11 September 2001. This includes not just the events of 11 September 2001 but also the Tampa issues, gang rapes, and the Palestinian intafada. Manning writes:

    This paper uses the same sheep farmer's image to talk of "dog whistle" journalism, in relation to the news coverage in two Sydney newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph. In this context the expression refers to the layers of meanings that come with the words, phrases, sentences and context of the reports produced by journalists in these two newspapers.

    He also refers to other writers on related subjects, including Collins, Noble, Poynting and Tabar's Kebabs, Kids, Cops and Crime: Youth, Ethnicity and Crime, to which I have previously referred in this place, Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation, from which I have also quoted several times in this place, and David Marr and Marian Wilkinson's Dark Victory, another impressive book. All those books are important in their own right. Most of all, however, Peter Manning refers to the work of Edward Said, a particularly significant author who died only comparatively recently. There are two separate approaches adopted by Manning. One is a statistical analysis of a sample of the two newspapers in the relevant period and the second is a literary analysis of some of the 12,000 or more articles from the two papers during the relevant period.

    At first glance some of his propositions seem counter-intuitive, but that is why this sort of rigorous analysis is necessary to replace commonplace, but inaccurate, assumptions. For example, most of the portraits in the media of Arabic and Muslim people come from foreign news—not, as I would have thought, from Australian communities. That is then coupled with a finding that almost 60 per cent of the time Arabic and Muslim people are associated in news reporting with terror and violence. The quantitative analysis goes some way towards explaining the development of inaccurate generalisations about Muslims and Arabic people in Australia that verge on racism. Manning writes:

    If such sweeping generalisations were made of Jews, black Americans, black Australian or Asians, they would be condemned out of hand as absurd.

    Another counter-intuitive comment is that in the coverage of the Palestine-Israel conflict there was a greater diversity of views in the Daily Telegraph than there was in the Sydney Morning Herald. I do not have the time to go into the details of all of Manning's arguments. I can, however, record some of his conclusions:

    The sample analysis suggest that most images of Arabic or Muslim people come from international news, rather than local. Within the band of international news, most images come from the Middle East (rather than the Islamic region to our north) and, within the Middle East most of the images come from the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Within the band of local news, most images by far of Arab people and people of Muslim belief came from coverage of the asylum seekers heading to Australia's northern borders.

    In his classic analysis of Western notions of Arabs and of Islam in Orientalism, Edward Said laid out a set of nineteenth century images of the 'orient'—'its sensuality, its tendency to despotism, its aberrant mentality, its habits of inaccuracy, and its backwardness'. In Covering Islam he focused on contemporary, largely American images of Islam, particularly its "irrationality" and fondness for "terror". This paper suggests the two Australian newspapers examined here fit well within the tradition.

    This study suggests that Sydney journalism, in foreign and domestic reporting, has picked up the imperial inheritance with full force. Yet there is an ambiguity still to be explored. Australia too, was a colonised space. It was an outpost of empire in one sense and subjugated to the empire in another. The Irish in Australian history recognised the contradiction early—for obvious reasons. The Aboriginal movement in the twentieth century made the full force of imperialism in our culture painfully obvious. Now another group, having experienced British and French imperialism—the Arabic population of Sydney, especially the Palestinians—are moving to object to the dominant narratives. This monograph suggests the representations of Arabic and Muslim people in our major print media are so distorted as to give good grounds for major challenge.

    The close contextual reading, sometimes assisted by the statistical analysis, elicits some clear patterns of portrayal.

    I could spend a lot more time dealing with this matter because it is a particularly significant and important book. I would commend Manning's book, not just to members in this place but also to everyone concerned with Sydney's media and with the nature of our society. It is important that the work is raised here, although given its subject matter there is a risk that it might not receive as much media attention as it ought.