“Did you guys watch Mediawatch last night?” I asked my students. Most of the fifty or so young people in the lecture theatre are second year students in the Journalism undergraduate degree. There are also a couple of final/third year students from the hybrid PR and journalism degree Professional Communication who have elected to do a broadcast journalism major. A small percent are internationals from southeast Asian countries like Malaysia and Singapore. Most are local. All of them are bright, curious, articulate – and while some of them may not end up as reporters, most will form part of the next generation of media professionals in Melbourne, Australia and the region.
Several hands went up. “Okay, those of you who didn’t, go to the ABC website and either watch it, or read the transcript. Watching it’s better. There’s a prime example there of how NOT to represent your media organisation.” I was referring to the episode of Mediawatch in which a cameraman from Channel 9, Simon Fuller, had provoked a Muslim father and called him a “f–ng terrorist”. Presenter Jonathan Holmes described the raw footage of a young Omar Amr shouting at the cameraman “edifying stuff”.
After the lecture, in the tutorial, two students bring up the Media Watch episode. “I couldn’t watch all of it when my flatmate had it on,” one female student confessed. “I wanted to cry, especially when that guy was defending his Dad…”
The other student who had seen the episode shook his head in disgust. “I can’t believe people like that still exist,” he said.
I tell them that I think there are two issues at stake – the calling of Mr Amr a terrorist, and the behaviour of the cameraman in harassing people leaving court. The class is pessimistic that anything will change even if Mediawatch exposed the incident, and even if the cameraman lost his job (which he subsequently did).They’re too young to be cynical, or maybe they aren’t. Maybe they’re being realistic. I sometimes wonder if their tolerant, open-minded attitudes will change in the pressure-cooker environment of a commercial newsroom, where there is often an undercurrent of bigotry and ignorance. I am pretty confident none of them will end up like Simon Fuller.