Media Release

Spin and secrecy frame the way we see asylum seekers

Canberra 14 February 2016

Some of Australia’s most experienced media commentators will discuss spin and secrecy in reporting on asylum seekers at a free public forum in Canberra next week.

Journalists Paul Bongiorno from The Saturday Paper and Channel 10 and Ben Doherty from The Guardian, cartoonist First Dog on the Moon and researcher Michelle Dunne Breen from Canberra University’s News and Media Research Centre will speak at the event.

Organised by the Canberra Refugee Action Committee, the forum will focus on key issues affecting how asylum seekers and refugees are portrayed in the media.

“Spin and secrecy play a major role in determining our views on asylum seekers and refugees,” Canberra RAC spokesman Associate Professor Dr John Minns said today.

“The government refuses journalists access to asylum seekers and detention camps; it denies us the faces and stories of refugees, and those working with them are threatened with imprisonment if they reveal information.

“This is not good enough in a democracy. And it is not good enough when voters need to be informed about what is being done in Australia’s name, by Australian employed officials, using Australian taxpayer funds.

“A policy of secrecy means that the media and the public has no access to objective information. Their only source of information then becomes the government itself.”

Dr Minns said the use of language in describing asylum seekers had been manipulated by governments for decades. In 2013 public servants were instructed by the Coalition Government to refer to asylum seekers as ‘illegal’ arrivals, even though there is nothing illegal in seeking asylum.

“When terms like ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ and even potential ‘terrorists’ are used to describe those fleeing terror and persecution in their own countries, it can spark public anger and fear rather than compassion,” he said.

“We need to be much more aware of why many of us adopt hostile attitudes to those in need of our help and this forum will bring many of these issues into the open.”

Dr Minns said he was delighted with the line-up of speakers at the forum to be held at Manning Clark Lecture Theatre ANU at 6.30pm on Tuesday, 16 February.

Paul Bongiorno was awarded an Order of Australia in 2014 for “significant service to the print and broadcast media as a journalist, political commentator and editor”. Ben Doherty is a two-time Walkley Award winner and as Thomson Reuters Fellow at the University of Oxford in 2015 wrote Call Me Illegal: the semantic struggle over seeking asylum in Australia. First Dog on the Moon was awarded the 2012 Walkley Award for Best Political Cartoon. Dr Michelle Dunne Breen is a former journalist and now lecturer and research fellow at the University of Canberra

RAC spokesperson Dr John Minns is available for comment on 0407 483 952.