How media is confusing the issue of asylum seekers

Cheryl McGrath / August 08, 2013 12:57 PM

Anyone else confused about the asylum seeker issue?

You are not alone. 

Just this morning, as I logged into my homepage, The Age told me that there’d been a “Drop-off in boat arrivals”. Apparently Immigration Minister Tony Burke had made a statement that overall boat arrivals had begun to decline. Furthermore, asylum seekers were now demanding their money back from people smugglers now that they realized they wouldn’t make it to the sunburnt country.

Pretty straight forward news, I’d think. Only I could have sworn not that long ago, The Age had reported that “Smugglers are ‘busier than ever before’”. Despite a “big panic” following Rudd’s hardline policy unveil, it would appear asylum seekers were taking their chances with dodgy smugglers and dangerous seas.

(Though the headline puts it in quotes, the phrase “busier than ever before” never actually appears in the article. “Business as usual” and “busier than normal” do. Not exactly the same thing.)

If you’d flicked open a few news articles a week ago, Yahoo!7 was more than happy to announce that “Australia’s PNG asylum seeker solution takes effect”. Not so optimistic on News.com.au, where “People smugglers pack more families onto asylum boats”. And these were posted on the same day.

The asylum seekers are confused, and they're not the only ones.

And what is success here exactly? Plenty of headlines would suggest any boat leaving Indonesia spells failure. The ABC intoned that “Abbott says [a]sylum seeker arrivals [are] now 50,000 under Labor”. Yahoo!7 was also grim, stating “16 boats arrive since PNG deal struck”. Both of which seem like nails in the coffin. Shouldn’t the boats be stopping altogether, if Rudd's policy is to succeed?

But elsewhere, the number of boat people is not the focus, so much as the procedure now in place. The Courier proclaimed on July 29 that “Asylum seekers set to land on Manus by end of week”, with Tony Burke admitting that boats may take awhile to cease but not at all deterred by the numbers still coming. Even a “delay” in the boats arriving is a plus, according to The Australian. 

And then there's the moral issues. Is the average Australian going to care if the policy is "working", as so many news sites proclaim, if these same Aussies think it's wrong morally? 

Does anybody know what we’re actually aiming for here?

Regardless of your politics – and I’ve purposefully omitted mine – it looks like the Aussie public will wade through a ridiculous level of spin to get the facts on this issue.


Other Margaret Gee's Media News: