Racism and radio


Gambling On The First Race
By Steve Mickler
Commissioned and published by the Louis St John Johnson Memorial Trust Fund
Centre for Research in Culture and Communication, Murdoch University
Reviewed by Geoff Spencer

This comprehensive 70-page report on racism and talkback radio looks at the relationship between commercial radio station 6PR, the Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) and the Western Australian government. Specifically, the report analyses at length 6PR's morning program, The Sattler File.

Howard Sattler has been a virulent opponent of returning the sacred site of Goonininup (old Swan Brewery) to Aboriginal peoples. He was also one of the major instigators and promoters of the so-called Rally for Justice that brought pressure to bear on the state government for a police and legislative crackdown on juvenile crime.

Sattler's outrage at crime is selective, however. When 19-year-old Aboriginal youth Louis Johnson was murdered, the racially motivated crime, unlike other juvenile crimes, was treated as an isolated incident.

The attending ambulance officers who examined Johnson thought he was just intoxicated and took him home rather than to hospital. This is a theme explored throughout the report the role of the media in creating a climate such that even caring professionals can be affected by racist assumptions.

Mickler compiles substantial evidence to demonstrate that The Sattler File and Radio 6PR incite racial hostility toward Aboriginal people. They promote bigoted ideas about Aboriginal cultural heritage and routinely belittle Aboriginal spokespeople as whingers and troublemakers, reinforcing stereotypes and falsely identifying the Aboriginal community with crime.

Background information on how The Sattler File (and talkback radio in general) operates is also included. Mickler explains how the terms of debate are framed from Sattler's point of view. Callers are selected and ordered onto a call list. Those who agree with Sattler are plugged in to reinforce and echo his introductory remarks. Callers who differ are routinely interrupted, contradicted, treated with disrespect and deemed to be outside "public opinion". The only person to exercise freedom of speech on The Sattler File is Howard Sattler.

Mickler details how media authorities such as the ABT have failed to find breaches of program standards. One of the recommendations of the report is that the regulations be strengthened.

The other major theme Mickler draws out is the tacit support given to Sattler and 6PR by the WA government. For example, ministers and other state politicians, government department heads and officers, ice force, are readily available for interviews on The Sattler File.

The state government, through the TAB, wholly owns and subsidises 6PR. This relationship is fundamentally at odds with government's stated support for the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendations, which stress the need to end racial prejudice.