Saturday, January 30, 2010

How the media manufactures a racist "controversy"

(Alternative title: How the Herald-Sun is really f***ing sinister)

Ever wonder why some Muslims seem to feel like they are being unfairly persecuted in the media? Consider this...

I wrote earlier in the week about the halal certification of Vegemite, and how there had been an intense negative reaction to it. A few days later and the reaction seems to be getting more intense, at least on the internet. There is already a "Take the halal stamp off Vegemite" group up on Facebook, and there are anti-Muslim mutterings and rantings all over the discussion forums about the whole business.

But I also noticed that no other newspaper in the country ran the story, outside the News Limited media. And it dawned on me. The Herald-Sun was not reporting a controversy. The Herald-Sun was taking it upon itself to create one.

This is how it's done. Take something that should not be controversial. Then go find a reactionary buffoon who disagrees with it. Then report that disagreement as representative of "what people in the community are saying", and you have a story.

Check out this sentence:

The label on Australia's most famous spread has changed in recent months to include halal certification in a move some have described as "ridiculous" political correctness.

Some? In other words, one person, Bill Muehlenberg, secretary of the Family Council of Victoria. Now, you might think that the Family Council of Victoria sounds like an important organisation that represents families, but as far as I understand it, it's no more than a handful of people. Their primary role is to release statements to the media, or to give a conservative viewpoint to reporters who don't want to do proper journalism.

So in need of a story, Herald-Sun reporter Wendy Hargreaves dutifully goes to Mr Muehlenberg, and he dutifully complains about Australia bending over backwards for minority groups, and how Islamisation is threatening our once-great nation.

Then release the story, and sit back and watch the mayhem ensue. Here are the results of the phone-in poll related to the issue:

Should vegemite carry the halal stamp?

Yes 21.84% (387 votes)
No 78.16% (1385 votes)
Total votes: 1772

And here are some of the reactions to the story:

Christine Marin Posted at 3:03 PM January 24, 2010
Definately no to Islamic labelling on Vegemite. If we went to their country would they put an Australian label on one of their products, I think NO.
Comment 13 of 47

doug molloy Posted at 4:24 PM January 24, 2010
well i hope simon talbot has a secure job at kraft,because he has just lost my support and my familys support with his veiws on halal certification. this certification also appears on cadbury chocolate and bega cheese which we no longer buy. AUSTRALIA is heading down the wrong path for our younger generationComment 16 of 47

Geoffrey Robert Wilson of Shepparton Posted at 4:05 PM January 25, 2010
Reverse the situation,bet your bottom dollar this woudn't be allowed in Islamic countries !!!
Comment 36 of 47

S. Grange Posted at 10:18 AM January 26, 2010
This is a christian country, I see no reason to have this symbol attached to any product in Aust, if they want a product such as this, import their own. These muslim countries do not assimilate to our christian values why do we cater to theirs. As this has raised my attention I will also look at other products I will select from the supermarkets ""products"" that "do not" have this marking in future including vegemite to purchase if thats the case .
Comment 46 of 47

Yes, those people are stupid, but they are only ignorant; they don't understand the situation, their xenophobia kicks in and they say stupid things. Don't blame them for being f***ing donkeys. Blame the Herald-Sun.

Why? Because of the misleading way the story was reported. Here's the first 2 sentences:

Vegemite has gone halal in a bid by food giant Kraft to make the national "treasure" available to Muslim Australians. The label on Australia's most famous spread has changed in recent months to include halal certification.

The second sentence is the true statement; Kraft have changed the label slightly.

The first sentence contains the misleading words. How has Vegemite "gone halal?" That would imply that Kraft have changed Vegemite to suit Muslim Australians.

This is untrue. They have NOT changed the product. They have changed the LABEL.

(Halal means permissible for Muslim consumption. Vegemite was always halal, but it was not labelled as such. The change in label clears up confusion for Muslims who might be unsure about it.)

Now, if Kraft were changing the recipe and taste to suit Muslims, perhaps that might be a story. But they are not changing either, which is surely the most important detail.

The media in a free society has several important responsibilities. Such as reporting accurately and fairly. Inciting fear and hatred of minorities is not one of them.

You may also like:

Addressing the myths and misconceptions about anti-Indian violence in Australia

Asian-fearing Herald-Sun readers of the week

Was Islamophobia a factor in the wrongful conviction of Farah Jama?


  1. OH yeah, the Herald Sun is DEFINITELY the Daily Telegraph. I absolutely agree that it is appalling the way they manufactured this story. And agree 100% with this: "Their primary role is to release statements to the media, or to give a conservative viewpoint to reporters who don't want to do proper journalism." I think Fred Nile fulfills that role for Sydney papers?

    Also, I love how one of the idiots apparently thinks Islam is a country.

  2. "Inciting fear and hatred of minorities is not one of them."

    If the business model is tanking, desperate journos and editors will resort to desparate things. These journos have mortgages to pay. If such a brand of journalism brings home the bacon, then many will think, "What they hey?"

  3. I don't even bother reading the Herald Sun, but I guess someone has to keep a check on these guys...

    Of course, it's convenient and maybe even necessary to label these ppl who oppose the halal labeling as irrational, infantile or just plain silly. But for the sake of cross-cultural understanding, let's see where they're coming from, because this issue is not exclusive to Aus alone, France is also experiencing public anxiety over halal food.

    These people seem to equate halal labeling as an "endorsement" of Islam, an attempt to appease Muslims or even legitimize our dietary restrictions which they may regard as being ridiculous. The truth is, eating halal food would not convert you into a Muslim, it doesn't mean you like Muslims (not that there's anything wrong with that), it doesn't even mean you're enriching Muslims (again, nothing sinister about that...). It simply means they're eating food that just so happens can be consumed by Muslims with no anxiety.

    Unfortunately a lot of ppl don't understand that. In any case, I wonder if they also boycott yoghurts, most of which have the halal sign on them.

  4. @ soda and candy: I think the country is called "Islamia". The commenter wants a label certifying things suitable for Australians to eat, I guess.

    @ Peter: And of course, who is associate editor of the Herald-Sun? Surprise surprise, your favourite journo, Andrew Bolt.

    @ kampung house: I read the Herald Sun for its comments because it is a good barometer of the level of idiocy that exists in this country.

    I agree, people don't fully understand what halal means. Thus it is the responsibility of the newspaper that reports it to explain it properly, rather than write an inflammatory article. It's as if some of the paper's readers believe halal means they are going to slaughter a goat facing Mecca and then add it to the Vegemite.

  5. Definately no to Islamic labelling on Vegemite. If we went to their country would they put an Australian label on one of their products, I think NO.



    I just. I'm glad you're reading this stuff so I don't have to, but seriously.

  6. okay, and in actual commentary, I agree that a lot of it seems to stem from the fact that people don't actually understand what halal means. And that reporting in this country is less than stellar. :o(

  7. And here's how they do it with tv news. Enjoy.

  8. @ fromthetropics: Thanks! I've just been discovering Newswipe for myself, coincidentally.

  9. Hahaha. Just come across this! How just like the Daily Mail readers! (Maybe they are the same people?).

    Sounds a bit like my dear auntie, when cooking some stir-fry veg for my tea, said 'I don't know if it's cooked or not, I can't eat it, it's vegetarian.' Her distaste for vegetarian food apparently making peas, sweetcorn, beansprouts and carrots inedible because the pack is labelled 'suitable for vegetarians'.

  10. Oh, and then there was the UK supermarket which brought in a small range (about 10 items) of ethnic minority clothing such as salwar kameez, in some branches where there was a call for it.

    Resulted in a call (amongst the ignorant Daily Mail/Express readers) to boycott the shop - because of course, stocking 'Islamic Clothing' (though they're not exclusively Moslem) will make purchase of these items compulsory! Amongst the comments: 'this is Britain! Would you go to their countries and find British clothing'! Like, presumably, jeans made in China. As if you wouldn't find jeans and tee-shirts in 'Islamic countries anyway! Hah!