Framing, Faith and Flawed Portrayal: How the Australian Media Reported the July 2017 Foiled Sydney Terror Attack

July 2017 foiled Sydney terror plot

Abstract

Mass media have become the primary source of information for the vast majority of, if not all, members of Western societies. Thus, the way in which mass media organisations convey information is extremely important as it has the potential to influence what a large number of people see, and what they think about what they see. Media has the power to not only control what its audience sees by setting the news agenda, but how it sees it by framing news stories in a particular way, and these choices can have real-life consequences. In the Australian news coverage of the 29th July 2017 foiled Sydney terrorist attack, the traditionally left-leaning media outlet The Age and national broadcaster the ABC covered the story in a largely fair and balanced manner which was unlikely to contribute to friction or othering between cultural groups within Australia. The traditionally right-leaning The Daily Telegraph covered the same story in a largely unbalanced and sensationalised manner which was likely to contribute to friction between cultural groups within Australia.

Keywords: agenda-setting, Australia, framing, Islam, mass media, media, media audiences, Muslims, othering, Sydney terror attack, terrorism

Introduction

On 29th July 2017, four men were arrested in Sydney, having been allegedly caught in the process of implementing a terrorist attack with the potential to kill a large number of innocent people (Knaus 2017, online). The alleged attack was to involve placing a bomb on an aeroplane and detonating it mid-air (Knaus 2017, online). The plot was foiled and nobody was hurt, and the story was widely reported in the media in newspapers, television, radio and the Internet (The Age 2017, online; The ABC 2017, online; The Daily Telegraph 2017, online). The story was reported using a variety of angles, descriptions, and images, and placed in context of other stories involving similar issues, including so-called ‘Islamic-inspired’ terrorism and religious tension at home and overseas. The way in which Australian media organisations report stories of this nature is important, as they have the potential to contribute to friction between cultural, racial and/or religious groups in Australia. This essay will examine the manner in which three media outlets reported the story of the alleged plot, and seek to answer the following research questions:

– To what extent has the Australian media’s coverage of the foiled July 2017 Sydney terror plot been balanced and informative, and to what extent is the media’s use of language in reporting on this story likely to divide, or cause friction between, different cultural and/or religious groups in Australia?

– Do media outlets in Australia engage in agenda-setting and framing of news when reporting on terrorism and religious extremism in Australia?

– To what extent does a media outlet’s traditional political alignment affect how that outlet reports on a story involving terrorism or religious extremism in Australia?

– To what extent can media outlets’ use of language in describing religious groups in stories involving terrorism or religious extremism contribute to ‘othering’ of religious groups by the media-consuming Australian public? Othering is “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as ‘not one of us’” (Norriss 2011, online), and can be divisive and potentially harmful or destructive to a society, nation or community.

Methodology

In order to find out whether the Australian media’s coverage of the July 2017 Sydney terror plot was balanced and informative, it is important to examine how the story was reported by media organisations with a variety of traditional political leanings on the left-right spectrum. How the story was reported by one left-leaning (The Age), and one neutral (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation), and one right-leaning outlet (The Daily Telegraph) will be examined. Elements including the language used in describing the plot and the alleged would-be terrorists (their backgrounds/alleged links to terror groups), how the outlets examine or describe any alleged links to religious fanaticism, and to what extent, if any, they engage in othering (and, if so, the methods by which they do this) will be examined. Conclusions will be drawn, using academic research and studies as reference and supporting evidence, as to the likely effects on the outlets’ audience and the Muslim community in Australia.

The Age was chosen to be included in this study as it has “a slight to moderate liberal bias” (Media Bias/Fact Check, online). It has been described as having “shaped major social and political issues” (Bonfiglioli 2015, p.15) in Australia with “progressive values and ideas” (Hills 2010, p.298) for decades.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) was chosen as its editorial guidelines state that the company has “a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism” (ABC, online). Its reporting of the story should theoretically be as impartial, and as free from political or ideological influence as it is possible for a media organisation to be.

The Daily Telegraph has traditionally been a publication which has expressed right-wing political views, and has “utilised loaded words (wording that attempts to influence an audience by using appeal to emotion or stereotypes) to favour conservative causes” (Media Bias/Fact Check, online). It has been described as doing this through the use of “disclaimers, mitigation, euphemism, excuses, blaming the victim, reversal and other moves of defence, face-keeping and positive self-presentation in negative discourse about minorities, immigrants and (other) anti-racists” (van Dijk 1992, p.87). The newspaper has published many anti-immigration articles over a number of years, perhaps most prominently in November 2011 when the Australian Press Council concluded the paper had published material including many misleading messages, including: “Thousands of boat people will be released into Sydney’s suburbs as the government empties detention centres” (Australian Press Council, online). It has also published stories with racist slants, perhaps most prominently during the 2005 Cronulla riots when it published a call for “every Aussie in the Shire” to join in a protest against Lebanese-Australians (Poynting 2006, p.85).

Agenda-Setting and Framing in the Islamic Sphere

The idea of using writing to influence public opinion has been around as long as writing has existed, and writers as far back as Aristotle have described writing as fundamentally “the political art of persuasion” (Varisco 2011, p.96). While it has existed for a long time, agenda-setting by mass media was only studied extensively and its effects analysed for the first time in the late 1960s. McCombs and Shaw conducted a study during the 1968 American presidential election and published the results in their seminal 1972 text ‘The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media’ in Public Opinion Quarterly, suggesting that the media sets the public agenda, not by telling you what to think, but what to think about. By explaining that “readers learn [about] how much importance to attach to [an] issue from the amount of information in a news story and its position” (1972, p.176), they showed that mass media determine which issues are important and which are not, and thus set the agenda of the news. Newspapers and television provide a host of cues about the salience of news topics, including where stories are positioned, the size of headlines, length of time devoted to the story, and language used in telling the story (McCombs 2003, p.1). Significant to this essay is the way in which McCombs (2003, p.2) describes how the public agenda is assessed – that is, by asking the question “What is the most important problem facing this country today?” The question of whether the media is simply reporting on a ‘problem’ or perpetuating it is an interesting one to ask.

Media framing is closely linked to agenda-setting and has been defined as “selecting some aspects of a perceived reality and making them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation” (Entman 1993, p.52). Scheufele’s 1999 work on framing, ‘Framing as a Theory of Media Effects’, is important, as it examines how media framing and agenda-setting are similar and are often used for the same purposes by mass media. Scheufele explains that a story presented to an audience in a ‘framed’ fashion can influence the way the audience uses the information and makes decisions based on it. Alongside the work of McCombs and Shaw (1972), Scheufele’s explanations of what constitutes framing are useful in deciphering the motivations behind the way in which stories are presented in mass media today.

The history of the way in which Muslims have been portrayed in Western media is complex and murky, and the relationship between the West and East in media must be examined on such a scale to get an idea of historical background and context. In his influential 1978 book, Orientalism, Palestinian-American author Edward Said examined the history of the West’s attitudes towards the East, and considered orientalism as a way by which writers, politicians, and colonists have historically come to terms with the ‘otherness’ of Eastern culture, and have been forged their opinions through interference, patronisation, imperialism and racism. The context of the East in Western culture is, to Said, an “arena of continual imperial ambition” (Scott 2008, p.64), and his work is very much relevant today, in that he describes how relationships between West and East can deteriorate due to “circumstances of time, distance, or oppression” (Scott 2008, p.64). The West’s ongoing view of the East, in Said’s description, is one that has been constructed to provide the West with an identity that a “superior one in comparison with all the non-European peoples and cultures” (Williams & Chrisman 1993, p.133).

In the contemporary arena, Western media has been described as “aggravating anti-Muslim sentiment” (Kabir 2007, p.313) since the 1990-91 Gulf Crises. Since 9/11, intense media coverage of Islam has brought it to the attention of millions of people across the world. Despite this, it has been said that most Westerners know little about the faith itself (Rane et. al 2014, p.15). In Western media, Muslims tend to be described as a single, homogeneous mass, when the reality is there is a huge range of culture, ideology and religiosity within Islam.

Many reports of atrocities carried out in the name of Islam since 9/11 are true, including those which have seem particularly shocking to Westerners, such as beheadings, murders of children, and so-called honour killings (Ferre 2015, p.516). Atrocities of this nature received widespread media attention, but what is much less commonly reported in Western media is the fact that the overwhelming majority of Muslims reject these abhorrent practices, even in the defence of Islam (Ferre 2015, p.516). Indeed, Gallup and Pew polls have shown that the majority of Muslims wish to uphold the religious freedom of non-Muslims, and favour democracy over totalitarian rule (Ferre 2015, p.516).

In Australia, studies have investigated the issue of how Muslims view they way they are represented in media, and have found their responses to be largely negative (Ewart et. al 2017, p.147). The reasons for this have been listed as being the lack of Muslim news sources, the way in which Muslims are stereotypically represented, their portrayal as the ‘enemy within’, and the consistent linking of Muslims and terrorism in stories (Ewart et. al 2017, p.147). Waves of prejudice against Muslims preceded 9/11 and there exists a climate of distrust around many Muslim communities, which many believe has been perpetuated by a number of Australian media organisations (Ogan et. al 2013, p.28). Many writers have described the feeling among Western Muslims since 9/11 as one of being “under siege”(Cherney & Murphy 2016, p.5). These elements and others combine to induce a negative reaction to Australian news media by Australian Muslims (Ewart et. al 2017, p.147), and Muslims have voiced concern over the divisiveness Australian media perpetuates, as well as expressing the belief that “prevailing media attitudes towards them and their religion disadvantages them both economically and socially” (Kabir 2007, p.313). Indeed, in 2017, the 33% rate of unemployment among Muslims is six times higher than the national average (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, online; Bita 2017, online).

As they are in all Western societies, Muslim Australians are an ethnically-diverse group of people, yet many media reports “imply that all Muslims are the same” (Kabir 2007, p.313). Reasons for framing stories in such a way have been suggested, and these include to marginalise Muslim people as the “uncivilised ‘other’ in the dichotomy between Western and Eastern culture” (Kabir 2007, p.315), or for blatantly commercial reasons – sensationalised stories sell newspapers and generate website ‘clicks’.

Despite many noted problems, Rane et. al (2014, p.154) suggest that, while there is much that Western media need to do to make its representation of Islam fairer and more balanced, there are some signs of hope. They note that, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, much of the Australian media focussed on remembering victims, as opposed to discussing Islamic-inspired violence. It has also been widely recognised as essential that Australian police and security forces work with the Muslim community to mitigate the risks of terrorism arising from violent extremism (Cherney & Murphy 2016, p.1).

Findings

The Age broke the story under the headline ‘Sydney Terrorist Plot: Bid to Smuggle Bomb Through Airport Thwarted at Check-In’ (2017, online), labelling the plot ‘Sydney-born’ in its opening paragraph. Religion is mentioned in the second paragraph, with the words “Islamic State-inspired terrorists” (2017, online). The fifth paragraph mentions the names of the men arrested as Khaled Merhi, Khaled Khayat and Mahmoud Khayat, and restrained language is used, such as “suspected weapon”, “alleged plotters”, “alleged earlier attempt”, and “alleged Sydney terrorist cell” (2017, online). There is one mention of a terrorist group, when one of the men arrested is described as knowing someone who was “once viewed as an active recruiter for IS in Syria” (2017, online).

A story quickly followed on 1st August with the headline ‘Men Arrested Over Sydney Plane Bomb had Links to Syria’ (2017, online). Again, careful use of the word “alleged” in describing the plotters and their plans is evident, and, despite the story going into a significant amount of detail about alleged links to Syria, at no point is religion or a terrorist group mentioned. Some speculation is present in the story, when a terrorism specialist is quoted as saying the group “might have had multiple targets and back-up plans beyond a plane attack” (2017, online).

A story on 2nd August with the headline (which includes quotation marks) ‘Man Arrested Over “Sydney Terrorism Plane Bomb Plot” Released Without Charge’ (2017, online) similarly makes no mention of religion or terrorist group, and quotes one of the alleged plotters as saying he was “simply in the wrong place at the wrong time” – the first time one of the men arrested is given a voice. On 3rd August, The Age ran a story with the headline ‘Charges to be Laid Over Sydney Terrorist Plane Plot as Airport Threat Downgraded’ (2017, online) in which the alleged plotters are described as a “Sydney terrorist cell”, and, similarly, there is no mention of religion or terrorist group.

On 5th August, The Age ran a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Arrests: One Week On, One Man Remains in Custody Without Charge’ (2017, online), in which the alleged plot is described as being arranged by an “Islamic State operative in Syria”, and that the accused Australian plotters “assembled the IED with assistance from the IS commander” (2017, online). This is balanced by providing a quote from one of the accused’s lawyers, who states “it’s just unfathomable that he would be associated with anything like this” (2017, online).

On the 6th, The Age described how the fourth and final man accused of the plot had been released without charge in a story with the headline ‘Fourth Man Held Over Terror Plot, Khaled Merhi, Released from Police Custody’ (2017, online), again with restrained language being used (“alleged terror plot”, “alleged suspect”), and there is included a quote from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) Deputy Commissioner Michael Phelan, who describes the alleged plot as “one of the most sophisticated … that has ever been attempted on Australian soil” (2017, online). Thus, The Age‘s cycle of this story was complete for the time being, possibly until further charges are made.

The ABC broke the story on the 29th with the headline ‘Sydney Counter-Terrorism Police Carry Out Raids Aimed at Foiling Attacks, Prime Minister Says’. The facts of the story are described in a non-sensational manner, and no mention of any terrorist group or religion is made. Along with a quote from the Prime Minister’s office describing the alleged plot as one involving “plans to undertake terrorist attacks in Australia” (2017, online), a quote from the mother of one of the arrested men is also included, in which she says “I love Australia” (2017, online).

The following day, the ABC ran a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Raids “Disrupted” Plot to Bring Down Plane, Malcolm Turnbull Says’, in which material police seized is described in detail, being described as “items that could be used to make a bomb” (2017, online). Again, restrained language is used in describing the group as an “alleged cell” (2017, online), and the only mention of religion is in a quote from the AFP commissioner, who described the alleged plot as “Islamic-inspired” (2017, online).

On the 30th, a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Raids: Airport Delays Expected as Security Increased Over Alleged Plot’ (2017, online) described the changes to airport security in a straightforward manner, with additional checks of cabin and checked baggage being the main points, and possibly a greater number of security staff in some areas. A number of tweets are included containing messages of frustration in regards to airport delays, and a number of passengers have been interviewed expressing similar opinions (2017, online), but no mention of religion or terrorist group is made.

The following day, a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Raids: What We Know About Those Held Over Alleged Plot to Bomb a Plane’ (2017, online) details everything known about the men arrested for the alleged plot. Restrained language is used in describing the plot as “alleged plot” and the men arrested as “alleged terrorist cell” (2017, online). The language used to describe the materials discovered at the home of one of the men arrested is also restrained, describing it as “items that could be used to make a bomb” (2017, online). No mention of religion or of any terrorist group is made.

On 4th August the ABC ran a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Plot: How Police Dismantled Alleged Islamic State Plan Hatched on Home Soil’. A terrorist group is mentioned in the headline, and the word “alleged” is used in relation to the plan. The terrorist group IS is mentioned again in the story, as are an “IS controller” and an “IS operative” (2017, online), who allegedly helped the men with their plans. The story is quite detailed in going through how the alleged plot came about, but language remains restrained and balanced throughout. The story finishes with the sentence: “Their lawyer Michael Coroneos said: ‘My clients are entitled to the presumption of innocence’” (2017, online).

A story by the ABC on the same day ran under the headline ‘Sydney Terror Plotters “Tried to Blow Up Etihad Plane, Unleash Poison Gas Attack”’ (2017, online). The headline is restrained in that it puts the details of the alleged plot in quotes – that of a senior police figure. Similar mentions of IS and ISIL in the third and penultimate paragraphs respectively are attributed as quotes by police officers, and there is a quote from the accused men’s lawyer, who stated that they are entitled to the presumption of innocence (2017, online). Another story on the same day with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Plot: Why Police and Government Concern Shouldn’t be Dismissed as Hyberbole’ (2017, online) ties the alleged plot to Islamic State terrorist attacks of the past, including 9/11. The story goes into detail about the history and evolution of Al Qaeda’s “bombmakers” (2017, online) and clearly links the alleged Sydney plot to a greater worldwide problem.

On 31st July, The Daily Telegraph broke the story with the headline ‘Sydney Counter Terrorism Raids: ‘Jihadis Plotted Meat Mincer Bomb Attack to Blow Up Flight’. The word ‘jihadi’ is present in the headling, language is unrestrained (no use of “alleged”), and details of the alleged bomb itself are used in the headline. The words “Islamist-inspired” (2017, online) are used several times, one of the accused man’s homes is mentioned in relation to its distance from a mosque, and the Prime Minister is quoted as saying the threat of terror is “very real” (2017, online).

Later that day, The Daily Telegraph published another story with the headline ‘Imminent Attack: The Terror Plots Foiled on Australian Home Soil’ (2017, online). The ‘story’ is essentially a list of unrelated foiled terrorist attacks in Australia since 2005. Pictures at the top of the story include two men of Middle-Eastern appearance dressed in military fatigues, with one holding a weapon and one holding a severed head. The pictures appear to be taken somewhere in the Middle East.

Another story on the 30th was run with the headline ‘Terror Raids in Sydney: Police Storm Homes in Lakemba, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Surry Hills’ (2017, online). Language is fairly restrained in describing the plot as “alleged” in several places for the first half of the story. A neighbour is quoted as saying he “often saw people in religious robes outside the unit block”, a woman from one of the homes raided is described as being “from Lebanon”, and another neighbour is quoted as saying a “collection of cats” at one of the homes raided “were bringing ticks and diseases into the block” (2017, online). The story notes that “several women wearing hijabs were also at the scene” (2017, online).

A further story on the 30th with the headline ‘Sydney Terror Raids: Security Increased at Airports Around Country After Police Foil Plot to Blow Up Domestic Flight’ (2017, online) describes how airport security is likely to increase in detail, with no mention of religion or terror groups.

On 31st July, a story with the headline ‘Muslim GP Asks Residents to Report Terror Activity Following Foiled Terror Plot’ (2017, online), a leading Muslim community leader is quoted as saying the alleged plot is “extremely upsetting and disappointing”. He also expressed relief that the alleged plot was foiled and stated that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people.

On 4th August, The Daily Telegraph ran a story with the headline ‘Sydney Terror: IS Link to Alleged Plot to Bring Down Plane with Explosive Chemical Device’ (2017, online) which immediately links the alleged plot to Islamic State and a wider, international terrorism network. A police spokesperson is quoted as saying the alleged plot “could very well have been a catastrophic event” (2017, online), and the story states that the brother of one of the men arrested is a “senior member of ISIL” (2017, online). A few paragraphs later, the story contradicts itself by saying the ISIL member “is not related to any of the charged men”.

On 5th August, The Daily Telegraph summed up how airport security has been tightened since the alleged plot in a story with the headline ‘Flight Crackdown on Security: The New Rules at Airports Coming After Terror Scare’ (2017, online). The alleged plot is no longer described as “alleged”, rather the “airport terrorism plot”, “one of the most sophisticated plots attempted in Australia”, and “close to a catastrophic event” (2017, online). A brother of one of the alleged plotters is stated as being an Islamic State commander.

Discussion

Overall, The Age generally reported the story with minimal sensationalism and with careful use of language in the way it described the alleged plot and the people arrested in connection with it. The publication broke the story without jumping to conclusions about links to terrorist groups, and was relatively restrained in associating the alleged plotters’ motives with religion.

Interestingly, the breaking story describes the alleged terrorist cell as a “Sydney terrorist cell”, instead of mentioning religion, nationality, or a terrorist group – reducing the possibility of othering as a result. The story ‘Men Arrested Over Sydney Plane Bomb had Links to Syria’ (2017, online) is likely to frame the alleged plotters in a negative way, as links to Syrian terrorism are hinted at, or “ma[de] … more salient in a communicating text”, to quote Entman’s (1993, p.52) definition of media framing.

The story ‘Man Arrested Over “Sydney Terrorism Plane Bomb Plot” Released Without Charge’ (2017, online) on 2nd August allows one of the alleged plotters to have a voice for the first time in The Age, when he is quoted as saying he was “simply in the wrong place at the wrong time”, providing some balance to the story after three days.

The publication continued to refrain from relating the alleged plot to religion or terrorist group until 5th August, when the story ‘Sydney Terror Arrests: One Week On, One Man Remains in Custody Without Charge’ (2017, online) refers to the alleged plot being directed by an “Islamic State operative in Syria”. The Age‘s reporting of the story generally veers away from portraying Muslims as the “enemy within” (Ewart et. al 2017, p.147), and instead refers to the alleged plotters’ origin in terms of their home city, Sydney.

The ABC, for the most part, reported the story with minimal sensationalism and with a fair and balanced approach, as per its Principles and Standards document states (2017, online). All stories until 4th August used restrained language, balanced reporting, avoid linking any religion to a terror group, and avoided framing any particular Australian community in a particular way.

On 4th August, the story ‘Sydney Terror Plot: Why Police and Government Concern Shouldn’t be Dismissed as Hyberbole’ (2017, online) changes this approach suddenly, by linking the alleged plot with a greater worldwide “problem” involving Islamic-inspired terrorists and ties the alleged plot to a list of historical Islamic-inspired terrorist attacks. Australian Muslims are immediately framed in a way that is likely to bring about othering, or seeing them “classified … as ‘not one of us’” (Norriss 2011, online). If agenda-setting is “learning how much importance to attach to [an] issue” by the way in which a story is positioned or presented, as defined by McCombs and Shaw (1972, p.176), the ABC potentially contributed to changing the news agenda with this story, by clearly linking the alleged plot to international problems involving Islamic-inspired terrorists, and directly tying it to 9/11 and other terrorist attacks. The article asks whether the plot signifies a change in tactics for Islamic State, and mentions how “intelligence agencies around the world will be paying close attention” (2017, online) to how Australia deals with the alleged plotters. Linking stories in this way is likely to contribute to othering of Muslims in Australia and perpetuate the idea of Islam in Australian as being “under siege” (Cherney & Murphy 2016, p.5).

The Daily Telegraph, for the most part, reported the story with a clear agenda of linking the alleged plot to the greater international problem of Islamic-inspired terrorism, framing Muslims as somewhat lesser than non-Muslim Westerners, and encouraging the idea that Muslims are the ‘enemy within’. The Daily Telegraph broke the story on 31st July using sensational and unrestrained language, clearly linking the alleged plot to to Islamic-inspired terrorism from the beginning, using the word ‘jihadi’ in the headline, and describing a “meat mincer bomb” (2017, online) for sensationalised impact. Further links to Islam are quickly made, with a mosque mentioned as being near to one of the arrested men’s homes. Later that day, the story ‘Imminent Attack: The Terror Plots Foiled on Australian Home Soil’ (2017, online) links the alleged plot, similarly to the ABC story on 4th August, to a range of foiled attacks involving Islamic-inspired terrorism, and included unrelated photos of ISIS fighters, again given the impression that all Muslims are the same.

The problem of media reports “imply[ing] that all Muslims are the same” (Kabir 2007, p.313) is evident in The Daily Telegraph‘s reporting of the story – particularly so in the story ‘Terror Raids in Sydney: Police Storm Homes in Lakemba, Wiley Park, Punchbowl and Surry Hills’ (2017, online), in which the clothing and pets owned by the Muslim occupants of an apartment are described in a negative way. This also fits with Edward Said’s view of orientalism as framing Western society as a “superior one in comparison with all the non-European peoples and cultures” (Williams & Chrisman 1993, p.133) or the “uncivilised ‘other’ in the dichotomy between Western and Eastern culture” (Kabir 2007, p.315).

The 5th August story ‘Flight Crackdown on Security: The New Rules at Airports Coming After Terror Scare’ (2017, online) again uses sensationalised language to describe the alleged plot and plotters, and links them to Islamic State. The Daily Telegraph, however, then dedicates a story to the statement by a Muslim GP, describing how Muslims and security forces need to work together to defeat terrorism. In the story ‘Muslim GP Asks Residents to Report Terror Activity Following Foiled Terror Plot’ (2017, online), it could be asked whether The Daily Telegraph has provided an opportunity for balanced reporting with the inclusion of a Muslim voice, or contributed to the idea that Australian Muslims are “all the same” (Kabir 2007, p.313) or a single, homogeneous mass, and thus all Muslims should think and act the same, or heed the wishes of a single Muslim quoted in a newspaper.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it can be said that the Australian media’s coverage of the foiled July 2017 terror plot was balanced and informative by The Age, largely balanced and informative by the ABC, and arguably somewhat unbalanced and sensationalised by The Daily Telegraph.

The Age‘s “progressive values and ideas” (Hills 2010, p.298) appear to have shaped how the story was reported in the days following the alleged plot’s uncovering, coverage of the story remains consistently factual, and mostly stays away from linking the alleged plot to any greater national or international problem involving a terrorist group or religion. Despite some minor references to terrorist groups being inevitable, othering is unlikely to occur as a result of the framing of The Age’s story, or of the language or images used in its reporting.

Similar to The Age, the ABC reported the story in a balanced and informative fashion for the most part, as per its pledge to “ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial” (ABC, online). On the whole, the story was framed in way that would not be likely to cause othering to occur, until the 4th August story ‘Sydney Terror Plot: Why Police and Government Concern Shouldn’t be Dismissed as Hyberbole’ (2017, online). This story linked the alleged plot to a greater worldwide problem of Islamic-inspired terrorism, in a way that is likely to contribute to the idea that all Muslims are the same (Kabir 2007, p.313). This story has the potential to affect its audience’s view on Islam in a negative way.

Out of the three media organisations studied, The Daily Telegraph is most likely to contribute to othering of Australian Muslims by the way in which in reported the story of the alleged foiled terror plot. It reported the story in the least balanced manner – most likely guided by its traditional political alignment and favoured methods of using “loaded words to favour conservative causes” (Media Bias/Fact Check, online). The Daily Telegraph goes to the greatest lengths to point out what it apparently sees as the ‘otherness’ of Eastern culture, by describing making points of difference like clothes and pets, and includes images of ISIS fighters (one holding a severed head) to allow Westerners to feel, what Edward Said described as, “superior … in comparison with all the non-European peoples and cultures” (Williams & Chrisman 1993, p.133). The Daily Telegraph consistently and unrestrainedly links the alleged plotters to terrorist groups, with the potential result of othering of Australian Muslims. Research shows that if reporting is “ignorant, unethical, sensationalised or inaccurate it can have devastating consequences” (Reporting Islam, online), and if many Australian Muslims are feeling “under siege”(Cherney & Murphy 2016, p.5), from The Daily Telegraph‘s reporting of this story, some of the reasons are evident.

References

The ABC, ‘Principles and Standards’, online, accessed 12th August 2017: http://about.abc.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/EditorialPOL2011.pdf

The ABC, ‘Sydney Counter-Terrorism Police Carry Out Raids Aimed at Foiling Attacks, Prime Minister Says’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-29/terrorism-raids-in-sydney-sees-streets-closed-one-arrested/8756802

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Plot: How Police Dismantled Alleged Islamic State Plan Hatched on Home Soil’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-04/sydney-terror-plot-how-islamic-state-allegedly-infiltrated/8774844

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Plot: Why Police and Government Concern Shouldn’t be Dismissed as Hyberbole’, online, accessed 14th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-04/sydney-bombs-destined-for-aircraft-make-governments-take-notice/8775168

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Plotters “Tried to Blow Up Etihad Plane, Unleash Poison Gas Attack”’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-08-04/sydney-terror-raids-police-say-plane-bomb-plot-disrupted/8773752

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Raids: Airport Delays Expected as Security Increased Over Alleged Plot’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-30/passengers-face-lengthy-delays-as-security-measures-ramp-up/8757472

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Raids “Disrupted” Plot to Bring Down Plane, Malcolm Turnbull Says’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-30/plot-to-bring-down-plane-disrupted,-pm-says-after-sydney-raids/8757386

The ABC, ‘Sydney Terror Raids: What We Know About Those Held Over Alleged Plot to Bomb a Plane’, online, accessed 13th September 2017: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-07-31/terrorism-raids-sydney-what-we-know-about-those-arrested/8757492

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The Age, ”Fourth Man Held Over Terror Plot, Khaled Merhi, Released from Police Custody’, online, accessed 12th September 2017: http://www.theage.com.au/nsw/fourth-man-held-over-terror-plot-khaled-merhi-released-from-police-custody-20170806-gxqfdf.html

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