So the Daily Telegraph is at it again today, featuring Kevin Rudd, Anthony Albanese and Craig Thomson in German World War 2 uniforms, playing the main characters of the popular 1960s TV show Hogan’s Heroes. The image is in reference to Albanese’s ill-advised beer with Thomson at a German beer house in Sydney and the headline reads: “Albo’s explanation for German beers with Thomson: I KNOW NUTHINK!”
It’s classic tabloid work, and clearly someone at the Tele has a fetish for uniforms, given the image in March of Senator Stephen Conroy dressed as Joseph Stalin. I don’t have an issue with what it implies, and can understand how some see it as a humorous front page.
But I do want to look at an underlying - and much more important - issue here. It is the way in which the front page draws on a particularly Anglo-Saxon cultural trope, as did Adam Creighton’s tasteless opinion piece in The Australian a few days ago, which compared Rudd’s plan to raise tobacco taxes with Adolf Hitler’s actions in Nazi Germany.
I need to make a full disclosure here: I was born in Germany and moved to Australia almost 15 years ago. I have since become an Australian citizen, but also retain my German passport. I live in two worlds, like numerous migrants in this country. And as such, I am a keen observer of issues around ethnicity, particularly in journalism. I believe that for our media to be relevant to all people in this country, journalists should be reflective of society.
But in a media world dominated by an Anglo-Saxon tradition and world view, often stereotypes about other ethnicities still prevail. I don’t necessarily fault individual journalists for it, these are hidden cultural biases that few are aware of, and that can be very difficult to put aside.
It was instructive to see that when I reported results from my survey of Australian journalists in May, all the focus was on journalists’ voting intentions. The fact that journalists were still very different ethnically from society was hardly ever discussed. We had found that almost three in every four journalists were of an Anglo-Saxon background, and an under-representation of the diverse ethnicities that live here.
There was no discussion about whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. I do know that many migrants - first and second generation - find it difficult to identify with mainstream media because they portray different worldviews.
The Tele front page and the opinion piece in The Australian are symptomatic of the problem. Australian journalists often employ cultural tropes that resonate with Anglo-Saxon views, but which may no longer be reflective of the general population. Germany, for example, is frequently portrayed through two very Anglo-Saxon themes in the news: beer and the war, both of which have come together on today’s front page.
I’m not so thin-skinned to be constantly offended by references to Nazi Germany. While I’m not a fan, I don’t take offence every time people use the term ‘Nazi’ to refer to some exceptionally pedantic. I realise it has become part of Australian colloquial language, and, to my own surprise, have even used it in that context myself.
But the way such stereotyped cultural references – in relation to many other ethnicities as well – are continuously employed in our country’s journalism does nothing to help our multicultural society advance. There’s a real danger that ethnic communities will feel even more alienated and switch off from mainstream media completely.