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Representation of the Indigenous Australia by the Australian Media and its Impact


Australia is one of the very few countries left in the world which had still maintained the wild nature in an unscathed manner. The continent contains a diverse wildlife and landscape and this mainly due to the fact that the continent is less populated. Towards the south it boosts of the old-growth rainforests, in the center they have the ruthless red desert and in the north there are the tropical rivers (Goodall and Jakubowicz, 1994). However, this is not the most significant diversity in the continent. Its significance lies in the longest surviving cultures of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have existed for a number of years.


The contemporary media has always played an essential part in giving information to the Australians on the matters relating to the indigenous Australians. However, it also plays a role for constructing a social discourse on who actually are the indigenous Australians.


When these Aboriginal people voice their opinions in most cases these voices are outnumbered by the privileged actors, or are mediated by the white voices that render their voice on behalf of them. Also generally the voice of the Aboriginals is usually the culturally approved voices of the white people. Hence this shows that racism still exists in some parts of Australia and certainly in the Australian media. In this article the researcher examines the identity and issues relating to the Aboriginals in the contemporary Australian media.

Media and the Indigenous People

Quite similar to the media of the western countries the Australian media too play an important role in providing information about the surroundings and the environment and also give us a notion about what is going on in the society around us (Huntsman, 2001). It is a known fact that the media is extremely powerful and it not only reflects but also creates many integral relations in the lives of the people such the relation between men and women, the young and the old and between people of different classes or different groups or race.


Australia has a population of more than eighteen million among which the Indigenous Australians make u only one percent of this population. Hence from this statistics it is clear that the only way in which the Aboriginal Australians can connect with the non-indigenous people is through their representation in the media. The history relating to the Aboriginal people in Australia has been extremely indistinct, offensive and dense (Goodall and Jakubowicz, 1994). Even though the presence of explicit racism will not be apparent in the Australian media the presence of stealthy racism is observed and still the Aborigines are portrayed in a very poor and a stereotypical form.

In the year 1991, a report was made by the National Inquiry into Racial Violence that stated that the Australian media had an inclination to perpetuate and promote the negative and racial labels. It further stated that the media also have a tendency to report only conflicts and sensational news relating to the race and culture issues. They are usually insensitive and ignorant about the minority issues and this may lead to a social environment that is tolerant towards the violence on racist culture (Goodall and Jakubowicz, 1994). Research in a number of countries such as Australia, United States and few countries of Europe have figured out that media in these countries tend to promote the racism and stereotypes and that too without the voices of the indigenous people (Meadows and Molnar, 2002). The media is generally ruled by the privileged classes, the government, the organizations and institutes and these classes are mostly ruled by the white people who give their own interpretation of the activities and events.

The ethnic and religious minorities when they make their voices heard in the media it is observed that they are less credible as compared to the government and police officials.

From the year 1996 the debates on racial issues have risen to a great extent and have gradually become a high-flying matter in the mass media.

Another event that requires to be mentioned in this prospect is the report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's "Bringing Them Home" on the “Stolen Generations”. This report was in the attention of the media even though it was tabled in the Federal government. This report was later known as the ‘Stolen Generation Report’ and it was based on an inquiry set up by the government in 1995 which researched on the forcible removal of the children from the indigenous families (Elder, 2007). The range of the report was not confined to the removal of the indigenous people but also covered some more areas such as the services that was available to the people who were affected, the justifications of the compensation payable to them and also the cause that led to such removal of the children.


The Commission reported that the removal of the indigenous children forcibly from their families was a gross violation of human rights and further stated that it amounted similar to acts of genocide which was contrary to the Convention on Genocide that was ratified by Australia in the year 1949. The primary reason for forcibly removing the children of the indigenous families was to absorb or merge or assimilate them in the civilized society so as to make the Aborigines disappear as a distinct group.


To analyse the impact of the Australian media on the life of the indigenous people it is essential to study the reflection of the media on some of the prominent daily newspapers such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian (Elder, 2007). These newspapers undertaken during the nineties, reported of the substantial lack of the Aboriginal voices in the Australian media. These newspapers further revealed that even when these Aboriginal voices did occur in most cases they are dominated by the other privileged voices such as that of the elite actors including the government officials, the academicians and other such people. Sometimes the voice was mediated by the white voices which apparently acted on behalf of the Aboriginals (Sharp, 2003).

While reporting on the Wik and Native Title, The Sydney Morning Herald, had a number of Aboriginal voices in the articles, however, all if these voices were counterbalanced by the vices that did not contain any Aboriginal voices (Stratton, 1998). In other daily The Australian the ratio was a bit better where in one of the three articles there were speeches by the Aboriginal spokespersons. While reporting on the issue of the Stolen Generations there were more articles on Aboriginal voices than of the elite actors. Nevertheless, these Aboriginal voices were primarily commenting on the victims of the assimilation of the policies rather than on the analysis of the Aboriginal actors and organizations.

When reports were made on the Stolen Generations the Aboriginal voices were interceded by the voices of the white people as they were supposed to have more experience of the assimilation policies of the country and that the Aboriginals would suffer under the policy. This was mainly because of the reason that the white Australians were able to identify the dilemmas of the Aboriginals.


Since the white Australians were obsessed with the so-called ‘real’ Aborigines the result was that only a few Aborigines who were ‘culturally approved’ were present in the media. Many Aborigines activists such as Michael Mansell who did not fit among the ‘culturally approved’ Aboriginal people generally did not make it to be represented in the media. And even under any case they are represented in the media their Aboriginality identity is questioned. It also should be kept in mind that even though the elite use this concept of cultural approval, the representative voices are not usually accepted by the people in Australia.


During the late 1990s, it was observed that the media and the dominant white Australians were not explicitly racist while depicting the Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders. Scholars state that the hostility towards these indigenous communities is primarily observed in the competing discourses of the identity of the Aboriginals and it was not merely a rejection that covered the rights of the indigenous people.

The media sometimes does not use the explicit terminology on racism but at times repel the institutionalized racism by criticizing it. Nevertheless, the Aboriginal Australians are still portrayed in a number of stereotypical ways. The politically and culturally privileged people who apparently reject the explicit racism deliberately deflect the attention from the racist practices (Stratton, 1998).

It is a fact that two to three decades ago Australian mass media was more negative towards the Aborigines than it is in the contemporary times. Nonetheless, even today their portrayal is determined by the elite culture and the related concept of Aboriginality. This concept does not portray the Aborigines in the original identity of the tribes. In the late 1990s, the racist culture did not disappear even though it did shift back to some extent. It is evident that even in present times racism is occurring in the media but is a more acceptable manner and is more pleasant for most of the people.



Elder, C. (2007). 'Imagining nations: telling national tales', in Being Australian: Narratives of National Identity. Allen & Unwin: NSW, pp.23-30.

Goodall, H. and Jakubowicz, A. (1994). Racism, ethnicity, and the media. St. Leonards, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin.

Huntsman, •. (2001). The Concept of ‘national identity’ in Sand in our souls : the beach in Australian history. Carlton South: Melbourne University Press, pp.163-169.

Meadows, M. and Molnar, H. (2002). Bridging the Gaps: Towards a history of Indigenous media in Australia. Media History, 8(1), pp.9-20.

Sharp, A. (2003). Australia. San Diego, Calif.: Lucent Books.

Stratton, J. (1998). 'Race, culture and national identity', Race Daze: Australia in Identity Crisis. Pluto Press: Sydney, pp.105-133, 226-230.


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