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We can't count on media to call out racism



When it comes to racism perpetuated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country, one thing is for certain: we cannot rely on the mainstream media to tell the truth of the situation. 

Kerri-Anne Kennerley in Sydney in February 2018. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images)Consider what happened back in January when Network 10's Studio 10 panel show turned its attention to this year's Invasion Day protests. Attendances at the protests have been surging, with 80,000 people estimated to have been at the Melbourne one this year, and some 50,000 people attending the Sydney one. 

I don’t think many of us were prepared for the vitriol displayed on Studio 10 by Kerri-Anne Kennerley the Monday after the rallies. Beginning by misrepresenting the rally numbers in Sydney as a mere 5000, she proceeded to attack the attendees, asking: 'Has any single one of those people been out to the Outback, where children, babies, five year olds, are being raped? Their mothers are being raped, their sisters are being raped. They get no education. What have you done?'

To Studio 10's shame, the only person to call out this statement was Yumi Stynes — the only woman of colour on the panel. Though she called out the statement calmly and accurately, highlighting Kennerley's racism, she was later vilified for daring to suggest that a white woman making racist generalisations with no knowledge of the protests themselves was a 'racist'. Stynes has not appeared on the show since.

Instead of learning from the fallout, Studio 10 doubled down. The following day, they allowed Kennerley an opportunity to criticise Stynes and repeat her racist comments. They additionally chose to hold a 'debate', engaging Aboriginal right wing figure and unsuccessful CLP candidate for the seat of Lingiari, Jacinta Price, whose very presence seemed designed to mollify Kennerly and to undermine any claims that her words had been racist.

Not only that, her presence allowed for the denigration of another Aboriginal woman on screen for their entertainment. Lidia Thorpe is a former Greens Politician, current community activist, women's advocate and a strong figure in the Indigenous rights movement in Victoria. She has additionally been open about having to rebuild her life after leaving a domestic violence situation. 

Despite her expertise, attempts to silence Thorpe were a feature of this 'debate'. Price derided, mocked and rolled her eyes while Kennerley repeated her offensive line from the previous day and showed 'offence' at Thorpe daring to bring up the topic of white privilege. It was an appalling display which showed there really was no care for Aboriginal women victims. The goal was purely to undermine Indigenous rights movements using Aboriginal women and children as a trump card.


"It's a sad state of affairs that it took the woman who had been abused relentlessly for pointing out Kennerley's racism to speak up before we finally got some accurate reporting on the ACMA findings."


I think back to that 'debate' and I wish it could have been investigated. At least the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) elected to investigate the segment containing Kennerley's initial offence. Its findings were handed down a couple of days ago. Again the mainstream media sprang into action. 

A report in the Sydney Morning Herald claimed Kennerley had been cleared. It quoted some mealy-mouthed comments from Kennerley claiming she had been vindicated and that she had looked up a dictionary definition of 'racism' so she knew she was not racist.

As a final insult, the report referred glowingly to Kennerley's visit to the Northern Territory at the invitation of the Tangentyere Women's Family Safety Group, highlighting Kennerley's thoughts on the work of these women while failing to report group spokeswoman Shirleen Campbell's more nuanced and, at times, critical views of this exchange. 

Many, including myself, were critical of the alleged ACMA findings outlined in this report until Yumi Stynes took to social media to correct the record. Rather than Kennerley, it was found that Channel 10 itself had not breached any standards by airing the segment, purely for the reason that 'the segment included material which offered counterpoints to Ms Kennerley's views and thereby contextualised them as one of many views on the panel'.

The findings singled out Stynes' challenge to Kennerley as the mitigating factor. Kennerley's comments, on the other hand, were found to be based on race and were noted to be 'capable of provoking strong negative feelings in a reasonable person'. 

It's a sad state of affairs that it took the woman who had been abused relentlessly for pointing out Kennerley's racism to speak up before we finally got some accurate reporting on the ACMA findings. Yet despite great articles correcting the record by James Hall and Amanda Meade, ultimately this entire process has left me cold.

Does all this mean that it's always going to be perfectly fine to make racist generalisations about Aboriginal people on television while concurrently showing complete ignorance of our social justice movements provided that there is at least one other panellist there with enough knowledge on racism to call it out?

If no other panellist is willing to take a stand, will such comments be found to be in breach of ACMA standards or will the ACMA find some other way to mitigate them according to their 'high threshold tests of "intense dislike" or "serious" contempt'? Finally, if the media cannot even be counted on to report racism as actual racism and instead bends over backwards to exonerate those who have offended, what is the media actually for?

I know one thing: this fiasco has done nothing to address the racism that Aboriginal people face, nor has it remotely helped the plight of Aboriginal abuse sufferers. Considering another January is just around the corner, I am therefore certain that a repeat performance, by Kennerley or any other number of white media commentators unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, is inevitable.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Kerri-Anne Kennerley in Sydney in February 2018. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams / Getty Images)

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Invasion Day, Kerri-Anne Kennerley



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Existing comments

It seems that any white person who speaks the truth concerning appalling behaviours towards women and children by some members of a particular race is a racist when that truth applies to non white people of any race. I have heard Kerri- Anne Kennerly condemn violence against white women and children also - is that also racist? If not, why not? Who we are is not defined by the colour of skin or the race within which we were born. Why in God's name do some of us have to fight with each other over such a flimsy traits? What is the prize at the end?

john frawley | 08 October 2019  

Aside from editorial, perhaps the "media" role is to continue to report objectively, if it's worth reporting at all. If the various broadcasting agencies take their particular stance on any number of social issues they risk becoming labelled left, right or somehow biased. Mainstream media with responsibilities to owners/shareholders are more susceptible to ratings and revenue than any criticism that ACMA can dish out. Vote with your remote; turn off what you don't like...if enough viewers do similar you'll either get the result of the offending show/performer being axed or perhaps the various outlets aligning to their remaining audience. Perhaps those who coin the term "Invasion day" need to temper their antagonistic enthusiasm? It can still be called Australia day, just with no particular cause for celebration for some... I fully support john frawleys comment below.

ray | 08 October 2019  

There's no point in representing Jacinta Price as a tool of white racists. Those who heard her recent speaking tour will know she's a more effective advocate for victims of violence than those who play angry identity politics.

James Franklin | 09 October 2019  

Celeste , are Aboriginal people more likely to be hit, hurt, harmed, slandered, and bruised by non-Aboriginal people or other Aboriginal people? Pointing out the reality that Aboriginal people experience elevated rates of child abuse and violence is not making "racist generalisations about Aboriginal people". It is simply stating an (inconvenient) fact.

Anthony | 09 October 2019  

Thank you Celeste for another well argued piece. All one has to do is examine the brutal conduct of the British actions on arrival in this country and the actions of all federal governments since then to ignore, at best, and generally punish the original peoples since, to realise the racism that is part and parcel of our nation. The media generally, with some minor exceptions, supports this racism. This racism is a continuing issue for our nation as shown in some of the comments included at the end of this article.

Tom Kingston | 09 October 2019  

Dont have any knowledge of this issue, but I do know that generally speaking commercial media are not part of solution to social problems, but help to create them and then exploit them. I go to ES to hear another point of view occasionally, and now it too, thru no fault of its own, is being taken over by the voices of reaction. Moderates, where are youse?

Patrick mahony | 09 October 2019  

Could we please desist from using the word 'denigrate' when discussing the subject of racism? Being Irish I was amused by a line in the movie 'The Commitments'. 'The Irish are the blackmen of Europe." That was a good example of people being denigrated. It was at the same time a good example of how some Irish groups felt they were being treated in the EU. They felt solidarity with ostracised black people. The Commitments wore their denigration as a badge of honour. They empathised with black people. Words can be tricky in the race debate. Not everything is black & white.

Uncle Pat | 09 October 2019  

Thanks Celeste for attempting to correct the record. It's interesting to see the readiness of some commentators to defend Kennerly's indefensible remarks. I haven't seen the footage but her comments as reported were not showing concern for victims of abuse as much as to undermine those who dared suggest 26th January might not be an appropriate date for celebration. Her remarks were intemperate and offensive, not compassionate, and her treatment of the guest who dared disagree demonstrated clearly where her concern lay.

Myrna | 09 October 2019  

Thank you for this accurate report. Kerri-Anne did not point to elevated rates of abuse, but singled out aboriginal communities. ACMA found her comments exaggerated, here is something from the news.com report: "The ACMA found Kennerley’s comments were based on race. “The ACMA considers the emphatic and sweeping suggestion by Ms Kennerley of endemic sexual abuse in indigenous communities could be capable of provoking strong negative feelings in a reasonable person,” the report found. But the watchdog ultimately found the Channel 10 hadn’t breached industry standards for airing the heated exchange. “The ACMA is of the view that, when considered as a whole, the segment would have conveyed to the ordinary reasonable viewer that sexual violence and abuse in remote indigenous communities was an issue over which people had differing points of view,” the report found. “The segment was not, therefore, likely in all the circumstances, to provoke or perpetuate in the ordinary reasonable viewer, intense dislike or serious contempt against indigenous people because of race. “The ACMA considers that the high threshold tests of ‘intense dislike’ or ‘serious’ contempt have not been met in the circumstances of this broadcast.”

Peter Dixon | 09 October 2019  

She’s got absolutely no idea. How can she have such abhorrent opinions on almost everything. Just honestly so disgusting

Caz | 09 October 2019  

In my opinion - as an old white bloke, KAK's comments were racist, and it appears the ACMA agreed.?? Now she's recommending running over protestors with cars. A really nice person.

Tony | 09 October 2019  

Spot on, as usual Celeste. White Australia is and will continue to be racist, as long as us white people remain complicit.

Holly | 09 October 2019  

A good sign to hang over the changing room door of any journalist, TV presenter, celebrity and of anyone in the media: ''He has shown you, O mortal, ( every single human being, no exceptions), what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God''. To be read each time on entering and existing the room.

AO | 09 October 2019  

We really need to stop calling everyone who critiques a non white person or community or religion as “racist”. Racism is the PREjudice (PRE judging) of a person or group before you know something about them. It is not a shield for all people of colour from any critique at all. Non-aboriginal Australia contributes $30bn a year to indigenous support programs. Self responsibility has to kick in sometime.

David | 09 October 2019  

our acceptance of people living in this country should not be defined by religion, colour or gender it should be defined by what we do to make this country a better place to live in

maryellen flynn | 10 October 2019  

Australian media is particularly bad with race issues. I only recognise that because you hear completely different things from POC if you actually listen than in the media. Good on you for this article.

Jesse | 10 October 2019  

Holly, maybe we'd be better of if all the descendants of the white invaders just picked up their bat and ball and went home - it's just not cricket!

John RD | 10 October 2019  

I very much look forward to the day when fossils like Kerry Anne, Alan Jones and John Laws are retired. They are blocking the country from moving forward. Does anyone know wether there are any Indigenous people in ACMA?

jude alexander | 10 October 2019  

Thank you Celeste Liddle - you have helped me to sort through this fiasco & have a clearer understanding - something everyone needs to do

HELEN MCDERMOTT | 12 October 2019  

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