Calla Wahlquist, The Guardian, March 19, 2018
The co-founder of the #AfricanGangs campaign says widespread media coverage connecting crime to people of African descent in Melbourne was akin to “media terrorism”.
Speaking at a forum on the so-called “African gang crisis” at the Immigration Museum in Melbourne on Monday, Natalina Andrew said she used the term because “they are trying to terrorise my community.”
She cited the example of teenagers allegedly being provoked by a Daily Mail photographer, an incident that was criticised by Victoria police.
“We panic when it’s 6pm or 6.30pm, time for the current affairs or the news,” she said at the Monash University forum. “We call each other and say: what are they saying about us, are they talking about African people … The end of your bulletin is the start of our nightmare. We go to bed and we have nightmares.”
Andrew and co-founder Maker Mayek started the #AfricanGangs social media campaign in protest against weeks of one-dimensional media coverage of so-called street gangs of South Sudanese youths.
Both are of South Sudanese descent.
Andrew said the campaign started as a way to “fight back” against media coverage, which was grouping gatherings of young South Sudanese people into “gangs”.
They began sharing images of their lives, like Mayek sitting at his desk job or Andrew at a restaurant, with the tag #AfricanGangs.
“We love this community and we love Australia,” Andrew told the forum. “If we didn’t love Australia we would not be here. If I didn’t love Australia I wouldn’t have started the hashtag, I would have just packed my bag and left.”
Journalist and film-maker Santilla Chingaipe said Australian media companies needed to implement diversity training to help predominantly white newsrooms recognise and overcome their own biases.
Chingaipe said journalists should ask themselves: “If this was a white person, would I ask this question?”
The former SBS journalist said coverage of so-called African street gangs, which began with a series of articles in the Herald Sun in December and was picked up across the media spectrum, including by Guardian Australia, was heavily based on race.
“To think about the way ‘African’ has been used in headlines, it’s coded language, it means ‘black’,” she said. “When you see ‘African gangs’ they are saying ‘black gangs’, except they can’t say that.”
She said many news reports created a narrative that suggested “a causal link between race and crime”.
She said experts including Victoria police separated issues of youth crime from the African migrant population at large, but that media outlets continued to report the more sensationalist comments of politicians such as Peter Dutton.
“The sanest voice in this African gangs thing has been the Victoria police,” Chingaipe said. “To have that not be listened to, I find that extraordinary.”
University of Melbourne academic Dr Berhan Ahmed, a former chair of the African Think Tank, said lack of diversity in Australian newsrooms and other institutions allowed racist narratives to take root.
‘We’re not a gang’: the unfair stereotyping of African-Australians
“When we have got one monoculture reporting on other cultures, what can you expect?” he said.
Fairfax Media journalist Benjamin Millar, who has reported extensively on the western suburbs of Melbourne that were the centre of the alleged crime crisis, said lack of diversity led to simplistic reporting.
“When you have the kind of hysteria we had over summer, the situation where Africanness becomes synonymous with crime, and we are almost in the situation where crime is synonymous with Africanness,” Millar said.