According to the Age article ‘Overwhelming majority of boat arrivals deemed to be refugees‘ (May 20th, 2013), more 90% of people seeking asylum who arrived by boat were approved as refugees in the March quarter of 2013. But reasoned analysis too often lose out in favour of five word maximum headlines – hence the popularity of the Herald Sun. Outlets including the Herald Sun readily use the terms ‘illegals’, describe boat arrivals as a “wave”, “swamp”, “flood”, “surge”, or other water-based metaphors. They’re implied as shifty, potential or current criminals, liars, sex offenders, and abusers of taxpayer money. The Herald Sun provides a perfect example of how to be successful in Australian media. It involves a three point formula that’s applicable to tabloids and half hour current affairs shows alike:
1) Angry, bombastic lead story
2) Angry, hard done by story: crime, welfare, femme fatales or immigrants/ asylum seekers
3) Puppies, kittens, or native marsupials.
I have a copy of the Herald Sun, dated Tuesday June 4th, 2013, which, I came across after already having pieced together my theory.
-Pg 1: “Gillard Wipeout” – with photo of a calculating, Mr Burns-like PM, in 48pt font
-Pg 2: “Councils Fail to Take CCTV Cash” – bad photo of the Lord Mayor Robert Doyle (crime)
-Pg 3: “The Strange Case of The Lovable Luggage” – three Labrador puppies in a suitcase.
*Pg 11 bonus: a picture of a puppy being cared for post-previous owner’s neglect
Pets seem to be the the only obstacle preventing a second Cronulla Riot; they calm us and distract us from the previously built-up rage. The Sun in the UK uses Page 3 sex kittens, we have Page 3 cats. This theory rings true for me, as many friends can attest to my well-documented habit of walking down the street mid-rant about inequality or something socially just to immediately coo at the sight of a puppy or kitten and forget what I was talking about. It’s telling that many of us are more offended by animal cruelty than mistreatment of actual human beings in mandatory detention, manipulation of refugee laws, denial or work rights, or drownings. Pets, especially ones saved from fires or bad owners, win because they’re the little Aussie battlers fighting against a brutal world. Strange, because I can’t think of a more battler move than fleeing your homeland over mountains and on dangerously rickety boat to find a safe haven to start a new life – assuming your case is legitimate. Ironically, puppies are far closer to the Herald Sun definition of an asylum seeker insofar as they can’t speak English, constantly demand free food and accommodation, and won’t support themselves through gainful employment. Geopolitical conflicts and international human rights obligations are complicated, while puppies love unconditionally.
If the public can’t differentiate, it would not be the worst option if the new PR strategy to take a page out of current affairs TV using the same tactics as animal cruelty. Target the Federal government like you would neglectful pet owners on A Current Affair or Fair Go. This will do two things: it will give asylum seekers an audience using method used to reach those who who feel hard done by with everything, and it will catch unprepared politicians like the angry confronted on any show, with hilarious results. Imagine ambushing Kevin Rudd at The Lodge with a camera. He comes out in a faded pink dressing gown and durrie hanging out his mouth while a reporter asks provoking questions whether he cares about people suffering. He tells the reporter to “stuff off”, threatens to call the police, and throws a ladder at the reporter while attempting to flee. Send a female reporter to a Tony Abbot campaign with a picture of a person seeking asylum and ask why he doesn’t care, until he accidentally kisses her forehead or makes an awkward comment about melons or jubblies or something.