Blackout: The mediated silencing of Aboriginal public opinion about the Australian government’s Northern Territory Emergency Response 2007


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    In June 2007, the Australian Federal Government declared a crisis of child sexual abuse in remote Northern Territory (NT) Aboriginal communities and launched the unprecedented and far-reaching Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER), which was enacted by Parliament two months later. Within days of its announcement, soldiers began entering the communities followed by teams of doctors and bureaucrats. The Race Discrimination Act was suspended, and residents were subject to welfare quarantining, whereby half their welfare payments were only accessible via a store card to ensure money was spent on food and other necessities. The haste and some of the elements of the NTER's roll-out was questioned by many Aboriginal people and their supporters. In an attempt to engage in the mainstream debate, 140 groups - Aboriginal bodies, social justice organisations, churches - came together to publish an open letter to the Prime Minister and the Indigenous Affairs Minister, expressing concerns about aspects of the intervention policy. Furthermore, representatives of more than forty NT Aboriginal groups gathered together to produce an alternative intervention strategy document. This paper explores how this opposition was mediated by the press - what voices were heard, and indeed listened to, and how they were represented. Employing the critical discourse analysis methodology of Norman Fair-clough's dialectical-relational approach, this paper explores the role of mediated communication in the presentation of public opinion, specifically that of NT Aboriginal people and their supporters, in the discussion regarding how to cope with this declared national crisis. It explores the social context of journalistic discursive practices, and the cultural context of journalists' and governments' handling of Aboriginal affairs and the NTER, as analytical contexts to the textual analysis of news reports. It finds that organised oppositional voices were largely absent from the Australian print media's news reports considering the NTER. Th is paper contributes to the literature on the representation of Aboriginal Australians' public opinion in the Australian media, provides evidence of silencing, exclusion and misrepresentation, and identifies the particular discursive practices that enable this. This paper points to practices that are common in the newsroom but indiscernible from the examination of online news sites. These discursive practices have been captured from analysis of the print editions of newspapers. The methodology to adequately excavate them from online newspaper sites has not yet been developed (for example, the retrospective examination of a news story's development across edition changes over time). This paper argues that analysis and discussion of these practices is vital to our understanding of how news is shaped. Our discussion of social inclusion is incomplete without an understanding of routine journalism discursive practices that serve to exclude and their implication for communication and media.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)33-44
    Number of pages12
    JournalPlatform: journal of media and communication
    VolumeANZCA special edition 2015
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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