‘Rescue’ or ‘kidnap’? The role of racism in reporting

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beirutFriday Forum
Your views on the news

Much has been written throughout the week about the bungled attempt by Australia’s 60 Minutes program to ‘retrieve’ two children at the centre of a custody dispute from their father in Beirut.

Nine people – the mother of the two children, the 60 Minutes crew and members of Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) – are in a Beirut jail awaiting their fate. They have been formally charged with hiding information, forming an association with two or more people to commit crime against a person, kidnapping and physical assault. If the charges are proved, they could face up to 20 years in jail.

The high-profile case has raised many concerns. While many can feel the heartache of a mother denied access to her children, others have expressed empathy for the father. It highlights the complexity and emotional toll of child custody disputes, whether they be between parents who live in the same suburb or on opposite sides of the world.

The role of the media is also under the spotlight. At what point do news outlets actually create the news they are reporting? Questions remain about who paid CARI more than $100,000 for their services – a desperate mother willing to do anything to reunite with her children, or a current affairs program willing to exploit that desperation for television ratings?

Questions have also been raised about Australia’s international relationship with Lebanon. Writing in The Australian, John Lyons states that Australian diplomats will have to deal with the Shia militant group Hezbollah. Denounced by Australia as terrorists in 2003, Australian officials cannot officially deal with the group. But as Lyons writes: “Any journalist or diplomat who has spent time in Lebanon quickly realises it is Hezbollah … that ultimately rules the country.”

Last week’s Friday Forum spoke about ‘casual racism’, suggesting it permeates Australian society. In her column in The Age, Ruby Hamad suggests it is just this kind of racism that has caused a family dispute to become an international incident. She asks and answers: “What made these journalists think they could do this, and get away with it? The answer must be tied to the disdain Australians by and large hold for non-western countries.”

What effect do you think casual racism had on the decision to remove these children from their father? Has it impacted the way the story has been reported in the Australian media?

Image by Carlos Buj via Flickr

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