10 Aug 2012

Why Didn't The Sikh Shooting Rate?

By Suvendrini Perera
Two mass murders, two very different responses. Why didn't the murder of six Sikh-Americans by a white supremacist receive the same coverage in the Australian media as the Aurora killings?

On Tuesday this week I emailed Media Watch, and Radio National's AM, Breakfast and Drive programs a version of the same simple query: "If Sunday worshippers in a Christian church had been targeted by a Sikh, Hindu or Muslim gunman, would the ABC's morning analysis programs (AM, Breakfast) have found a few minutes to discuss it, despite the sad Olympics news?"

My inquiry was prompted by the fact that on that morning the Breakfast program featured no fewer than seven items on the London Olympics, but did not make a single reference to the massacre that had been carried out during a Sunday service in a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in the United States.

AM, ABC Radio's premier morning news program, was equally silent on this topic — although almost as loquacious as Breakfast about the Olympics.

Perplexed and dismayed by this omission on the part of our national broadcaster, I sought enlightenment from the ABC. Only Media Watch took the time to respond, pointing out that AM, PM and The World Today had covered the story the previous day, and that perhaps there had been "no new developments" since. Yet, overnight US officials had for the first time identified the gunman. He was named as Wade M Page, a former US solider with links to white supremacist groups.

In whose book would the confirmation of a racist motivation for the massacre fail to rate as a new development?

The muted response to this story not only at the ABC but across the Australian mainstream media is in striking contrast to the extensive coverage of the movie theatre massacre in Colorado less than a month ago. The two killings, as some commentators have pointed out, have a number of commonalities. Not least, they raise questions about the relation between popular culture and violence (Wade Page was on the radar of civil rights watch groups for his involvement with white supremacist rock bands).

But the most significant difference between the two killings is that the Colorado cinema massacre had no obvious racist motivation.

The targeting of the Wisconsin Sikh Temple clearly did. Attacks on Sikhs have been on the rise since 9/11. It is unclear whether this is because the attackers are not able to distinguish Sikhs from Muslims or simply don't care.

The Wisconsin massacre carries disturbing reminders of Anders Breivik's mass killings in Norway in 2011. Although Page, like Breivik, is seen as acting alone, both men were clearly formed and nurtured by a transnational white supremacist network with considerable organisational, social and cultural reach — one which, at the very least, provided them with emotional support and psychic reinforcement. Intellectual support for this movement comes from a spectrum of sources, ranging from the extreme racist right to mainstream political figures opposed to migrants and refugees. Breivik is known to have cited former Prime Minister John Howard, as well as other prominent Australian conservatives, in his manifesto.

The Australian media's interest in the Colorado cinema massacre involved a degree of cultural distancing — only in the USA! — but the killing of the Wisconsin Sikhs requires more than complacency or sensationalism. Beyond asking the question could it happen here? it requires us to consider the extent to which hate networks, often as part of a transnational white supremacist movement, have gained ground in Australian public life during the last decade. What are the consequences and implications of their increased presence?

In Australia, the asylum seeker debate is the clearest instance of the prevalence of extreme xenophobic abuse and incitements to violence against those assumed to be migrants or refugees. A cursory trawl through any opinion website reveals how commonplace such sentiments are, but I have yet to see a serious analysis in the mainstream media of how transnational white supremacism registers in Australian life.

Is the challenge of understanding the increased prevalence of racist hatred in Australia part of the explanation for our reluctance to attend to the story of the Wisconsin Sikh massacre?

Or I am being too harsh in suggesting that the Sikh Temple massacre raises questions that are just too difficult and disturbing for Australian media to address?

Perhaps the answer is a much simpler one: that these deaths just don't rate in a big news week. Whereas Australian media and politicians have been obsessed with numbers in recent weeks — toting up the numbers of Olympic wins, while also keeping an eye on the numbers of boat arrivals, tallying the number of bodies in detention, or calculating the potential numbers of asylum seekers (in the tens of millions if some commentators are to be credited!) — maybe some other bodies, like the six Sikh-Americans murdered by a white supremacist gunman, just don't count.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. Dr Joseph M Fer...
Posted Friday, August 10, 2012 - 13:10

Points well made, Suvendrini. Nothing to see here it seems. All eyes on London, at sea, or on Mars.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. ErikH
Posted Friday, August 10, 2012 - 15:44

I have to say that there is no surprise in this. I have, time and again, seen items about disasters in third world countries, where hundreds or thousands die, summarised in a short paragraph at the back of the paper but the front page is all about relatively minor incidents in North America or Europe, incidents like multi-car pile ups, a forest fire that destroys homes but doesn't kill anyone or, at its worst, an item about Becks or Paris Hilton or some other vacuous celebrity.

pan.sapiens
Posted Friday, August 10, 2012 - 20:11

"Why didn't the murder of six Sikh-Americans by a white supremacist receive the same coverage in the Australian media as the Aurora killings?"

-'Cos "batman" gets more clicks?

Rocky
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 14:26

Could it happen here? Yes, of course. The incident should have been reported more widely, however to claim that it's necessarily evidence "of the increased prevalence of racist hatred in Australia" is ridiculous. In my opinion the incidents that also should be reported more, are the 'ethnic' conflicts in the Third World e.g like the genocidal civil war in Sri Lanka or the "communal" tensions in India.

"Transnational white supremacism" (sounds reminiscent of the "Protocols of the Elders Of Zion") another conspiracy theory, perhaps I've misunderstood and Mr Perera wasn't expressing anti-"European" prejudices. I noticed that 'white' was written in lower case, a typo perhaps?

I'd be fascinated to learn what the hysterically anti-Western Indian press reports that tragedy in the US, after the racist hatchet job it did on Australia.

Rocky
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 14:35

oops!

I should have written-"Prof. Perera wasn't.."

mamat
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 17:26

I reckon it wasn't covered so much as it needed to be because coverage about 'us' or 'people like us' gets precedence. In Australia the 'audience' is still presumed to be white and Anglo peeps (who like Batman). Sikhs are 'not like us'. Mainstream media has an assumed picture of the audience and uses that to judge 'newsworthiness', going by the assumed level of audience interest rather than the gravity of the issue or event. Pretty crappy, really.

jackal01
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 18:32

Maybe they were just worried about copy cat killings at a time of the Olympics.

But I must say if it was some Jewish Teachers Car vandalised by herself, we would hear about it, as we did, while the revelation that she did it herself gets back page.

Its a sad world but thats how it is and will be for a while yet.

12000 years of human debauchery can't be wrong or atleast since Kane killed his brother Able.

larap333
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 21:57

Thank you for the article. It is indeed very sad to hear about these killings and the lack of reportage on the event. It makes me really angry. A few months ago, I was quite happy to see the ABC finally introducing a morning news show. But as I started to watch the program, it became clear that very few and selected international stories would make news here as its main purpose was going to be nation-focussed stories and even then the quality of the analysis on important issues such as refugees would remain limited. Perhaps ratings and competition for the audiences groomed by commercial channels may explain this. For example, a few weeks ago there was an interview with the new leader of the Greens and she was explaining the position of her party on refugees. The ABC journalist interviewing her could not move from either a Liberal or Labour response to the issue and seemed amazed that a third political party would not support the off shore detention centres at all etc...

My sense is that this journalist like many others was so caught up in a mainstream framework, offered in this case by the two main parties, that he just couldn't conceive or accept anything outside of it.

The Olympics as Perera states here, is a mainstream feel good story that again focuses on national achievements. The formation or re-formation of white supremacist transnational networks is a serious concern and they have been connected to these recent events. Yet this link has been given little weight. Perhaps this is because it requires some serious research and engagement with academics who are already researching these issues; something that we see less and less in the media. These recent killings disturb the simplistic viewpoint that media operators have circulated around the identities and political affiliations of 'terrorists' that we have also seen being used against 'refugees'.

Thinking through the current fixation with celebrities, my feeling is that what we are seeing is the creation of celebrity journalists at the expense of quality news.

thomasee73
Posted Saturday, August 11, 2012 - 22:35

What mamat said. Journalists here aren't Sikh, weren't brought up in a Sikh tradition, and don't have Sikh friends.

suvendrini perera
Posted Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 17:32

larap333 wrote: "Thinking through the current fixation with celebrities, my feeling is that what we are seeing is the creation of celebrity journalists at the expense of quality news."
I agree with these comments about the prevalence of an insular culture of "celebrity journalists" and commentators on a number of the ABC's news commentary programs. I felt bound to send this critique of the ABC first to its on-line opinion site, The Drum Unleashed. It was declined because of "lack of space." Unleashed? not so much, it seems, when it comes to criticisms of the ABC.
Suvendrini Perera

thomasee73
Posted Sunday, August 12, 2012 - 19:40

Lack of space? A pity. Maybe one day information and communication engineers will be able to invent a technology that enables more space to be made available at very low cost for people to express their opinions.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 11:43

Good article.

On Tuesday 7 August 2012, the shabby, malreporting, censoring, PC racist, anti-Arab anti-semitic, anti-Jewish anti-semitic, defaming and lying ABC's Radio National Late Night Live (LNL) program had a segment in which US journo Bruce Shapiro was interviewed about the Wisconsin Sikh Massacre in the US: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/latenightlive/bruce-shapiro... .

I posted the following comment on the program on Wednesday 8 August 2012 at 10:25:46am but then the censors of the Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist (NAZI)-subverted ABC deleted my post for evidently containing things that ABC does not want its readers to know about or think about [I have added links for your convenience]:

ABC CENSORED POST: " One should put this latest American tragedy into the context of the shocking annual total of US gun deaths. Thus in 2007 there were 31,244 gun-related deaths in the US of which 17,352 were suicides.

However there is an even more horrifying context, that of the circa 1 million Americans who die preventably each year, the breakdown being 443,000 (smoking), 300,000 (obesity), 75,000 (alcohol), 79,000 (air pollution from carbon burning), 45,000 (lack of health cover), 33,000 (vehicle accidents), 31,000 (GUNS), 30,000 (suicides, 20% being of veterans), 21,000 (under-5 infant deaths), 21,000 (opiate drug-related deaths from US Alliance restoration of the Taliban-destroyed Afghan opium industry), 15,000 (HOMICIDES)(Google "One million Americans die preventably": http://www.countercurrents.org/polya180212.htm ).

The number of Americans killed by crazed gunmen is very small in comparison with the 1 million Americans dying preventably each year due to the depraved indifference of the Establishment 1% that this century alone has committed $5 trillion to killing 9 million Muslims abroad rather than keeping Americans alive at home (Google "Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ). END ABC CENSORED COMMENT.

The PC racist ABC like PC racist Australia as a whole has a "thing" about Asians with consequent gross malreportage e.g. it simply won't report the violent deaths and deaths from war-imposed deprivation that total 38 million (US Asian wars since 1950), 12 million (post-1990 US War on Muslims), 9 million (post-2011 US War on Terror), 4.6 million (Post-1990 Iraqi Genocide), 2 million (post-1936 Palestinian Genocide), and 5.6 million (post-2001 Afghan Genocide).

From an Indian perspective the most extraordinary ABC malreportage was the absurd and insistent claim by ABC LNL that King Ashoka, possibly the best known Indian ruler ever (the Ashoka chakra is on the Indian flag), had been "lost" or "disappeared" for over 2,000 years and its offensively stupid censoring out of 6 successive posts from me exposing this absurd Anglocentric falsehood (see "Australian ABC (Like UK BBC) Absurdly Re-writes Indian History,Claims Ashoka “Lost” For 2,000 Years, Censors Rebuttals ", Countercurrents, 12 August 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya120812.htm ; "Censorship by ABC Late Night Live": https://sites.google.com/site/censorshipbyabclatenightlive/ ).

There needs to be a Royal Commission into the anti-Asian, PC racist, Neocon American and Zionist Imperialist-subverted and endlessly malreporting ABC that is a national disgrace.

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.

Rocky
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 14:19

Dr Polya,

I was also amazed to read the claim that Ashoka had been forgotten, he always seemed to be one of the most respected rulers in the subcontinent's history.

I agree with your assessment of the appalling record of destruction that the USA has inflicted on the rest of the world post WW2--Why were Americans so astounded when they were "bombed back" on 9/11?

Is it possible to get an explanation from the ABC for the deletion of comments?

BTW, Phillip Adams is an intellectual lightweight, I can't remember any time he disagreed with or analysed an interviewee's opinion. Adams' main talent is boosting his guest's egos, I gave LNL the flick long ago.

roma
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 14:53

Agree with other comments. Sikhs are less known in Oz media circles = not important.

p mahone
Posted Tuesday, August 14, 2012 - 18:34

First, because it came second and, second, because it came in the middle of the Olympics.

You can hardly claim it wasn't mentioned, just that it didn't rate the intense follow-up of its movie theatre predecessor. That sort of follow-up is partly determined by what else is on the news agenda and, once every four years, it is hard to knock the Olympics off, not least because nearly every major news organisation on the planet has a heavy investment in people at the event and, with respect, they are hardly going to brush the stories of their own "names" supported by the airfares, wages and accommodation they have paid for, in favour of an agency follow up of a news event that is more than two days old. That is especially so, when it has many similarities with a similar news event that they have all just gone to town on

That's just how it is. For the Lunar Right gunman and, possibly the author of this piece, it was just bad timing.

Stephen Pickells
Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 08:53

Friday will be the 21st anniversary of a massacre in Strathfield. It will most likely be commented on.

suvendrini perera
Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2012 - 12:04

Dr Polya,
Yes, the comments about Asoka displayed a stunning level of Eurocentrism—but that is, sadly, not unusual for the ABC. Although I am often grateful to the ABC for its attention to issues and stories that are covered nowhere else in the Australian mainstream media, the overarching framework of its star presenters in particular is one of liberal whiteness. By whiteness I don't mean ethnicity, but a whole cultural outlook and ethos -- some of the ABC's non-Anglo commentators are most notable for this display of whiteness. This cultural outlook is accompanied by a smugness that renders the ABC as an institution impervious to criticisms from the left -- particularly those that go beyond the softest of multiculturalisms. The failure to acknowledge the silence on the Sikh massacre is an instance of this.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Thursday, August 23, 2012 - 09:27

Suvendrini, I completely agree with your comments about Anglo and non-Anglo "whiteness" and the ABC. An appalling example is the politically correct racism (PC racism) whereby Australians profess anti-racism and love for all humanity while ignoring the horrendous consequences of US Asian Wars that since 1950 have all involved Australia and have been associated with 38 million Asian deaths from violence or war-imposed deprivation (4.6 million in Iraq since 1990 , 5.6 million in Afghanistan since 2001: see "Muslim Holocaust, Muslim Genocide": https://sites.google.com/site/muslimholocaustmuslimgenocide/ ).

Some years ago through a mutual friend I arranged a long conversation with a non-European media figure whose charm, normality and "whiteness" have no doubt saved literally thousands of non-Europeans from verbal or physical assault in Australian streets. I sent him a copy of my book "Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950", now available for free perusal on the Web: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com.au/) and pleaded that he use his powerful position to at least draw attention to the horrendous violent deaths and deaths from war-imposed deprivation in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia (12 million dead in the post-1990 US War on Muslims) - but to no avail.

Obama is a prime example of the Anglo-American "whiteness" culture and makes no reference to the British Kenyan Genocide of the early 1950s that impacted on his own family. A further example of the "whitewashing" function of the "whiteness" culture is that in 2008 I was invited to participate, together with Indian Economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and other scholars, in a BBC program series entitled "Things we forget to remember" and specifically that concerned with the WW2 Bengal Famine (for the transcript see "Bengal Famine: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-h... ). University of London medical historian Dr Sanjoy Bhattacharya estimated that 6-7 million Indians had perished in this British-imposed atrocity. Yet many Indians I know are unaware of this atrocity which the first WW2 atrocity to have been described (in 1944) as a "holocaust" and instructions (see Gideon Polya, "Bengal Famine. How Australia & UK killed 6-7 million Indians in WW2", MWC News: http://mwcnews.net/focus/editorial/13742-bengal-famine.html ; Gideon Polya, "Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History", now available for free perusal on the Web: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com.au/ ).

Peace is the only way but Silence kills and Silence is complicity.