Contributing to Islamophobia on New Zealand radio?

This afternoon I made a complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Afternoons with Jim Mora’ on Thursday 25th October 2011.

The broadcast can be heard at: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/2501142/the-panel-with-tony-doe-and-john-bishop-part-1.asx

The offending comments can be heard here: http://soundcloud.com/hinemoana-1/terrorist-barbie
I’ve pasted my letter below:

To whom it may concern

I am a long-term fan of Radio New Zealand and the National Programme, having appeared as a guest on programmes such as the Asian report, Afternoons with Jim Mora and Saturdays with Kim Hill.

I write this as an academic who is actively involved in community affairs and committed to being part of an equitable, flourishing and humane society for all of its members. Consequently, I am committed to critiquing the institutions that purport to represent the needs and aspirations of their diverse constituents.  Hence this considered decision to make a formal complaint about the quality of public broadcasting on Radio NZ’s Afternoons with Jim Mora on Thursday 25th October 2011.

Around 4pm on the 25th, the host and a panellist were having a discussion about the release of the new Barbie doll – a collector’s edition being produced by toy company Mattel and in so doing made remarks about the Muslim community that I believe breach Broadcasting standards. During the discussion, John Bishop (a panellist) suggested that Mattel could market the doll to Muslims. However, he then added  ‘why can’t we have a Terrorist Barbie?’ The host Paul Brennan responded by saying ‘Suicide Bomber Barbie….she could come with a little belt.’ Meaning that the belt could be made of explosives. ‘Why not?’ said Mr Bishop, implying that a product like ‘Terrorist Barbie’ would sell well to Muslims and then names like “terrorist Barbie” and “suicide bomber Barbie” were suggested.

I believe that these comments made by a broadcaster who is viewed as authoritative and authentic, contributes to the portrayal and representation of Islam that are racist and anti-Islamic/Islamophobic and breach the following standards:

Standard 1: Good Taste and Decency: Broadcasters should observe standards of good taste and decency.

1a Broadcasters will take into account current norms of good taste and decency, bearing in mind the context in which any language or behaviour occurs and the wider context of the broadcast e.g. time of day, target audience.

Conflating the ‘Muslim world’ with ‘terrorists and suicide bombers’ reflects a lack of taste and decency toward the community that Radio New Zealand purports to be serving- including Muslims. While the Broadcasting Standards Authority has previously stated (e.g. Decision 2008-080 & 2008-087) that standards relating to good taste and decency are primarily aimed at broadcasts that contain sexual material, nudity, violence or coarse language. The Authority has also said it ‘will consider the standard in relation to any broadcast that portrays or discusses material in a way that is likely to cause offence or distress’. (Practice Note: Good Taste and Decency (BSA, November 2006). Thus the comments made on the show offend and distress a significant number of viewers breaching Standard 1.

Standard 5: Accuracy

The suggestion that there may be a market for terrorist and suicide Barbies among Muslims overlooks the social, ethnic or cultural diversity of the global Islamic community and attribute to all Muslims the negative characteristics fundamental to Islamophobia. These include conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers and inferring that Islam and Muslims are backward; inherently separate and ‘other’ to the West and Western values. The comments influence the beliefs and attitudes of listeners, which then has an influence on their behaviour and attitudes towards Muslims (which Muslim listeners might also internalise). In a recent UK report (Pointing the Finger) four common stereotypes about Muslims are invoked that are pertinent here. These are: all Muslims are the same, all Muslims are under the influence of religious teachings, all of them are lower than other people in moral, human, cultural and political terms and ‘all of them are considered a threat’.  It is disappointing that these racist anti-Islamic views, which could be expected from right-wingers, are present in our media.

Standard 6 Fairness

Broadcasters should deal fairly with any person or organisation taking part or referred to.

The comments made during the discussion denigrated Muslims as a group (in a very homogenous and one-dimensional stereotypical way that suggested that Islam is without any internal differentiation or opinion) and promoted and reinforced discrimination against them by conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers.

I have recently completed research about Refugee mothers in New Zealand who were despairing about the Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism their children were experiencing-in the form of both verbal and physical abuse. They reported interpersonal racism that is “racism in interactions between individuals either within their institutional roles or as private individuals” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046).  They also reported more insidious Instititutional racism that is “practices, policies or processes that are experienced in everyday life, and maintain and reproduce avoidable and unfair inequalities across ethnic/racial groups” (Ziersch, et al., 2011, p.1046) specifically in terms of their access to employment.

Given that the wider community depend and receive their knowledge of visibly different ‘others’ through the media, often in the absence of direct experience with those ‘others’. I believe that a state broadcaster funded by Government and taxpayers needs to ensure that the media represent those communities who are already marginalised (in this case by the events of 9/11) are treated with care and decency

Standard 7: Discrimination and Denigration

Broadcasters should not encourage discrimination against, or denigration of, any section of the community on account of sex, sexual orientation, race, age, disability, occupational status, or as a consequence of legitimate expression of religion, culture or political belief.

Conflating the Muslim faith with terrorism and suicide bombers does not assist understanding and co-existence. The statements and the inference behind them encouraged discrimination against Muslim New Zealanders with Islam and Muslims represented as being the ‘other’ to ‘New Zealanders’ thereby reinforcing the ‘them’ and ‘us’ dualism. The comments were neither funny nor satirical.

Standard 8: Responsible Programming

Broadcasters should ensure that programme information and content is socially responsible.

It is not socially responsible to suggest, that a religious minority are killers on the basis of their faith. The broadcast did not provide balanced factual information and entertainment was made at the expense of an already vulnerable group. In New Zealand after 9/11 we had incidents of violence directed both toward Muslim women because they wore the hijab and toward places of worship.

I look forward to a response from Radio New Zealand on this matter.

Sincerely

Ruth DeSouza

Are we there yet?

This piece was originally published at Tangatawhenua.com http://news.tangatawhenua.com/archives/14051

On October 3rd 2011 as part of the series: Are we there yet? These articles are being written as a prelude to the election in November, and focus on the ‘wish list’ of Generation Xers; their hopes, dreams, aspirations and vision for New Zealand society.

I have two enduring memories of arriving in New Zealand with my family in June 1975. On the drive to our new home from Mangere, I was stuck by two sights, the first were the abundant citrus trees, promising sweetness and growth in this new life and the second, the Blockhouse Bay Foodtown supermarket where we shopped for our first meal before it closed (and no I don’t remember what that was!).

The supermarket too represented abundance but the shopping trip was a portent of the self-reliance my family would need to develop to survive in this country. A marked contrast to the hospitality of home cooking that we might have expected as newcomers from the other side of the world. Later, I found out that Tom Ah Chee a New Zealand-born Chinese, was one of the three small business owners to invest in the Foodtown, New Zealand’s first American-style supermarket.

The neoliberal narrative of migration is that my family came to New Zealand (like other migrants) for a better life. Another explanation is that we were pulled to New Zealand as a result of the unevenness of life chances created by colonial capitalism. As South Asians in East Africa we were what Avtar Brah calls the filling in the colonial sandwich. Occupying a precarious uneasy place that had neither the imperial support of the British coloniser nor the entitled weight of indigeneity. Migration to New Zealand offered an escape from the colonial sandwich to maybe a liberal pizza, a place of equal footing, a safe haven, replete with economic and academic opportunities. “New Zealand has no ‘colour bar’” I remember my Mother proudly telling friends. Unfortunately, like the settler colony we’d left, the dynamic was the same but the nuances were different. In East Africa Asians had a symbiotic relationship with Africans and were understood (a checklist of some of the popular foods in Kenya, shows how our culinary destinies were interwoven despite the imminent exclusionary nationalist future: kachumbar, chapati, pilau, chai, samosa to name a few). In New Zealand, food provided an entry point in a different way. I sold Maori cookbooks to raise funds for the Hoani Waititi marae in Henderson.

The migrant’s new life is characterised by a delicate dance between preservation and hope. Treasuring a past that might never be retrieved while hoping to succeed and make good on the sacrifices that have been incurred. But other kinds of reconciliation are also necessary; requiring that migrants develop what Ghassan Hage calls an ethical relationship with the history of colonial capitalism/colonisation in which they are implicated. The narrative of migration as an individual choice framed by the desire for betterment must be considered against the collusive role of migrants in usurping the indigenous. As must being subsumed into larger stories of ethnic communities as uninvited foreign guests, in need of careful management and modernisation so as not to lower the cultural standards of the receiving society (“our way of life”).

Reckoning with a colonial history requires coming to terms with New Zealand’s history of racism. Knowing that anti-Chinese and anti-Indian sentiment has been evident since the arrival of these groups in the 1800s, where they represented the largest groups of migrants and refugees, and were viewed as threats to jobs, morals and sexuality. Chinese particularly were the targets of exclusionary immigration legislation through the 1881 Chinese Immigration Act, which exacted a poll tax of £10 from all Chinese arriving in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Indians, as British subjects were not exempt from hostility nor restrictive legislative practices despite their status. The 1899 Immigration Restriction Act restricted Indian and other Asian immigration and the formation of the White New Zealand League, in 1926 epitomised this hostility. The latter formed to counter the potential for contamination of bloodline, values and lifestyle posed by Chinese and Indian men. The introduction of the 1920 ‘permit system’ reflected demands for increasing prohibitions and excluding and/or repatriating Asian migrants.

The end of an unofficial White New Zealand migration policy was not brought about by a desire for equity or fairness. Economics was central to this policy shift, and the 1986 review of immigration was a response to a ‘brain drain’ and decreased immigration to New Zealand. Consequently migrant selection shifted from preferred source countries (largely European) to being skills based in the Immigration Act of 1987, whereby a points system was introduced. The introduction of the Business Immigration Policy and  ‘Family reunification’ and ‘Humanitarian/refugee’ categories plus the growth of a thriving export education market consolidated this long-term trend to diversity. Consequently Asians grew in number and became more visible and central to the national economy and the number of people from Middle Eastern, Latin American and African communities (MELAA) increased. However, the residue of the old attitudes and fears remains, migrants and refugees are held with great ambivalence- disadvantaged in the employment stakes but welcomed for the spice and innovation their presence adds.

I began this piece by talking about my family’s welcome to New Zealand through consumer capitalism at Foodtown. On reflection, the supermarket is an apt metaphor for migration, both for the visibility and promise of its products and for the invisibility of its processes. Neoliberal narratives of individualism and ‘choice’ render invisible both the dispossession of the local and indigenous and the economic imbalance necessary for the movement of goods and people to the West in order for capitalism to flourish. Yet if these two aspects of migration were made visible, in the same way that more ethical consumptive practices are becoming a feature of contemporary life then other kinds of relationships might be made possible. In the case of ethnic communities, direct negotiation with Maori for a space where indigenous Maori claims for tino rangatiratanga, sovereignty and authority are supported while the mana of newcomers to Aotearoa is upheld hold promise.

So, I close this piece with an alternative story of welcome. Two years ago we had a Refugee conference at AUT University, where Tainui, Refugee Services and a group of refugees talked about the powhiri process they had instituted as part of the orientation of newly resettled refugees in Hamilton. Their presentation included a powhiri during which a refugee participant delivered his mihi in Swahili. Much to his astonishment when he came to sing his Swahili waiata I joined in. It was a moving experience. In his korero he said that the original powhiri in Hamilton had helped him to stand tall and regain his mana after the dehumanising experiences of his refugee journey. On a larger scale, Maori King Tuheitia, invited ethnic communities members to a special powhiri during the 5th Koroneihana (Coronation) celebration at Turangawaewae marae in August this year. Isn’t this the kind of Aotearoa we want? Where standing tall is possible for all of us?

Ruth DeSouza
Are we there yet? Contributor


Footnote

The process of direct negotiation with Maori has already begun and there are many resources available.