SBS's Go Back shames gov't, corporate media

The cast of season two of 'Go Back Where You Came From'.

The compelling nature of the second series of SBS TV's Go Back Where You Came From highlights, by contrast, the atrocious nature of 99% of Australia's mainstream media.

The myth-busting and heart-wrenching show, where six prominent Australians take a refugee's journey in reverse, reveals how media could challenge injustice — if it were not dedicated to a diet of celebrity, unreality TV, repeating falsehoods, and endless cooking shows.

Go Back smashes anti-refugee lies that have been promoted by Liberal and Labor, and stoked by corporate media.

Three of the participants — anti-refugee shock jock Michael Smith, former ombudsman and refugee supporter Allan Asher, and sympathetic model and actor Imogen Bailey — travel to Mogadishu, the capital of war torn Somalia.

The United Nations says there are 860,000 refugees in Somalia and a further 1.5 million displaced people. Smith, Asher and Bailey hear the stories of refugees, including one whose family was killed by a bomb in front of them.

Huge refugee camp cities exist and conditions are deplorable, without reliable access even to water, let alone food, work or education.

Many in the camps have been there for years. Asher recognises that many will die there.

Last year, Australia accepted just 190 refugees from Somalia.

The other three participants — former Howard government minister and infamous “children overboard” promoter Peter Reith, aspiring right-wing politician and former rock singer Angry Anderson, and left-wing writer and comedian Catherine Deveny — travel to war-ravaged Kabul in Afghanistan.

Kabul is clearly unsafe, and Reith and Anderson are shaken. Deveny expresses her shame about being Australian when our country engages in a war yet denies refuge to those fleeing it. We hear that 11 Hazara Afghans deported by Australia have been killed.

Yet Australia today still tries to send Hazara asylum seekers back to this deadly place. A week before the screening of Go Back, 17 people were decapitated in Afghanistan, and on the final night of the show it was reported that five occupying Australian troops had been killed.

Other anti-refugee lies are also demolished.

Asher and Deveny point out the hypocrisy of the “stop the boats” mantra, when there is no calls to “stop the visa overstayers”, despite there being about 50,000 mostly white visa overstayers in Australia at any one time.

Deveny retorts Reith's proud declaration that his government “saved lives” by “stopping the boats”, pointing out that for those facing the horrors of Kabul and Mogadishu, denying them asylum is to condemn them to death or persecution.

Many of those stranded make clear that despite the risks they would make the boat journey. “It's dangerous but we have no choice,” says one woman.

And even the most hostile participants admit that in the same circumstances they would probably try it too. The "option" of staying in "third countries" is exposed as a life without rights, without work, without education, without safety and without hope.

And even the much maligned "people smuggler" is exposed as usually being poor fishermen, many of them teenagers, trying to earn a few dollars providing a service to those who have no other way to get to safety.

But Go Back doesn't just expose Australia's refugee response as appallingly inadequate. It also shames Australia's media.

The lies and distortions so starkly revealed in Go Back have gone virtually unchallenged in Australia's mainstream media.

Anti-refugee reporting, demonising of “boat people”, “illegals” and “people smugglers” have been normalised in the media, from Murdoch to the ABC. Then there's entire programs dedicated to stoking fear and prejudice, such as Border Security and Customs, backed up by refugee-bashing stories from “current affairs” programs.

And how much of the media ever report on Mogadishu, Somalia, or Africa as a whole for that matter? Our media gives more coverage to Lara Bingle than to entire continents.

Nor can the media use the tired excuse that people will only watch mindless fluff. The second season of Go Back rated even higher than the first hit series. SBS said that Go Back attracted 1.5 million viewers across Australia, and was SBS's highest rating show for this year.

It is not just the media and the policies of Labor and Liberal that come out of Go Back looking like the racist filth that they are. Go Back also reveals the inhumane nature of the system as a whole.

It does not delve into broader injustices in depth, it reveals them and allows viewers to join the dots.

It shows the insanity of wars, the destruction of lives, of countries and of futures. It shows the basic humanity and equality running through people from different sides of the globe, exposing racism as illogical.

It shows the savage injustice of a system that impoverishes the global south, where 80% of the world lives.

A system where mostly Western corporations rape the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America of their resources, ripping out all the wealth that could possibly have allowed their development, and propping up horrific regimes that help with this corporate theft.

Finally, Go Back shows the power of life experiences to change people, and drive them toward solidarity with fellow human beings.

Bailey, in many ways the surprise of the show as she uses empathy to challenge prejudice, sums this up. Overwhelmed in Mogadishu, she says: “Seeing this and then going back to a comfortable life, that's just a bullshit life.”

Go Back is rare media — urging us not to “go back” to our “bullshit lives”, but to challenge injustice in Australia and globally.

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