Australia's discrimination commissioner accuses media of monetizing racism

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      Tim Soutphommasane's final speech as Australia's race discrimination commissioner has captured the attention of media outlets around the world.

      In part, it's because he's accused some broadcasters of incorporating racism into their business model.

      In effect, he said that they've monetized discrimination.

      "Faced with competition from a proliferation of news and entertainment sources, some media outlets are using racial controversies to grab attention—as a means of clinging on to their audiences," the commissioner declared.

      To cite one example, he noted that some media outlets pay homage to "far-right political commentators from North America".

      "These avatars of white nationalism are typically lauded as ‘alt-right showmen’ or ‘alt-right provocateurs’. They are fawned upon and given sympathetic platforms to spread their messages of hate and division. With this kind of licence, it is no surprise to find far-right groups being emboldened like never before."

      Soutphommasane also declared that commentators on national television in Australia are telling people to go back to where they came from.

      They "entertain fantasies on radio about running over a Muslim writer, with barely a slap on the wrist".

      "And just last night, we had Sky News—through host Adam Giles—give a platform to the avowed neo-Nazi and convicted violent criminal, Blair Cottrell," Soutphommasane added. "This is the same Blair Cottrell who has called for every classroom in Australia to be adorned with a portrait of Adolf Hitler; the same Blair Cottrell who has been convicted of arson, stalking, and aggravated burglary; the same Blair Cottrell who has been convicted of breaking the Victorian Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.

      "Even for Sky News, it was a shameful low. Perhaps this is where things are heading: why bother with importing racist commentators when you can just put a neo-Nazi thug on air?"

      Sky News is part of the News Corp. empire, which is controlled by Australian-American media baron Rupert Murdoch.

      "We must remain vigilant because race politics is back," Soutphommasane said. "I take no pleasure in saying this but, right now, it feels like there has never been a more exciting time to be a dog-whistling politician or race-baiting commentator in Australia.

      "Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said it was likely that we would see the resurgence of far-right politics," he continued. "I wouldn’t have expected that the biggest threats to racial harmony would come from within our parliaments and from sections of our media. Yet here we are."

      He went on to say that perhaps it's too much to expect that racism could ever be purged.

      "Just as there was in the 1980s and 1990s, there is panic about migrants and minorities," Soutphommasane declared. "Since the start of this year, media and political concern about a so-called African gangs crisis in Melbourne has grown feverish. According to some, Melburnians are now afraid to go out for dinner because of rampant African youth crime."

      He noted that the Liberal state opposition in Victoria even "distributed pamphlets claiming it would ‘stop gangs hunting in packs’, featuring a shadowy photograph of hooded dark-skinned youths".

      Soutphommasane also talked about the rerun of old fears about the "yellow peril" and the "chilling effects" that the racist climate is having on Australians of Chinese ancestry.

      "Many fear speaking out in public debates, lest they get smeared as agents of the Chinese Communist Party," he said. "If we’re not more careful, we may end up demanding that Chinese Australians work many times harder than others to demonstrate their loyalty to this country.

      "We may end up with what can only be described as a form of racial discrimination, justified as concern about national sovereignty."

      Soutphommasane was born in France, raised in Sydney, and has held posts at three universities. He has a PhD and master's degree from Oxford University and is the author of four books, including I'm Not Racist But... and Don't Go Back to Where You Came From.