Fanning the flames of asylum seeker fear

Daily Life


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

Articles from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

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?


8 thoughts on “Fanning the flames of asylum seeker fear

  1. This is a really interesting article particularly the argument that puts forward the idea that our opinions and fears are shaped by what we see and hear rather than what we see and hear reinforce opinions that are already shaped. And I am not even sure that I agree with it.

    But if that is the case then, what is to be done about it? Most of us know that the media (tabloids in particular) are biased in some way shape of form whether they intend to be objective or not. Are we fighting a losing battle when this is the very nature of media coverage on issues such as asylum seeking and ‘illegal’ immigrants? If media perpetuate an already growing fear of people seeking a better life for themselves, where does that leave the rest of us who are not afraid and are willing to defend their right to be here?

    Is this article warning us to be vililent about what media coverage on this subject will do to our thinking on asylum/ refugees or is it making a point that this is the trend and so we should expect more of it?

    • have you looked at the big picture here ? After the first few arrive, then the rest follow! given all them between wtf they came from to Australia, there’s many more on the way !

      yep, look at it this way, after the first few boats arriving, and be given everything they want/expect and complain for (as is happened within these detention centres,now) I’m the proof [ SEEN IT ALL,WITHIN THE SYSTEM] it’s costing aussie taxpayers shitloads… Now whats it going to be tabbing upto in another 2/3/5/10 years from now ? Eh, give us some credit, wtf it’s due…. I’m am disgusted with wtf is happening now !!!!

      • derbyiter, can you see the contradiction of your protest for them coming here? This nation as it stands today was built by the process of immigration so for you to condemn those coming here legitmately to have a go at having a better life is absurd! These people aren’t rats you know! They are human beings.

        Yes, the boats arrive, but they carry people whose lives WE can save, people who can contribute to our society in positive ways! What exactly are you scared of? Do you know that thousands of people come here by plane every year to make a better life for themselves and for their families from America, UK and Europe, so are you just as opposed to them coming here as you are with ‘the boat’ people?

        These people don’t get ‘everything they want’ either! Did you read the article above on having $706 A FORTNIGHT to live off before rent for a family of 5? Or did you just choose to ignore that? What do you think you are protecting Australia from exactly? Mate, there are plenty of people here who were born here or have immigrated here from the UK, America and Europe who are on the dole you know, and have been for a long time!

        And as for the detention centres, i agree with you! They are a joke! Bring them here on Australian soil where they can be ‘processed’ as they call it (fucking dehumanising word that it is). Give them working rights so that they can contribute to our economy whilst the application goes through and cut the costs significantly for us tax payers! People complain about their call centres being abroad, we shouldn’t have our detention centres abroad! As you say, it’s costing us tax payers ‘shitloads’ to have them ‘processed’ offshore!

        Who cares what it tabs up to in 5/10 years time! I don’t give a flying fuck as long as our economy is healthy then we should be gaining all the help that we can from these people who so desperately want to be apart of our society.

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