Just one week after The Australian published an editorial calling for Australians “to be vigilant about those who seek to divide their fellow Australians on racial lines”, the paper has been reported to the Australian Press Council for placing unnecessary emphasis on race in a news story.

In the news article, the first sentence described the victims of a serious car crash as “six youths of African appearance” — a detail not expanded on or relevant to the otherwise straight police report that described the crash and the injuries, ages and condition of those involved. The driver of the other car was described only as “a Parkdale man in his 40s”; no reference was made to his skin colour, race, ethnicity or physical characteristics.

The story was also tweeted (where it is still published) out to The Australian’s followers, with that first paragraph in the main body of the tweet.

The Australian Press Council has received at least one complaint about the article, and there has also been significant backlash on social media. The second standard of the MEAA journalist code of ethics is to “not place unnecessary emphasis on personal characteristics”, which includes race and ethnicity.

The Australian‘s editorial from January 7, in response to far-right protests in Melbourne, was concerned with similar themes. The paper warned about the dangers of “those who preach fear and hate”, and was apparently most perturbed with racist rhetoric that had moved on from anti-Islam to anti-Semitism.

It called on all Australians to stand against white supremacist groups and racial hatred:

Australia is, as Scott Morrison says, the most successful migrant country in the world. We have achieved this by showing respect for each other, and for our laws and values. Australians must not allow those who preach fear and hate, and use violence, to become in any way acceptable. Our relative social cohesion and unity as a nation is underscored by tolerance and understanding. It is incumbent upon all Australians to ensure that we keep it this way.

The Australian’s tabloid stablemate the Herald Sun has been one of the strongest media outlets in pushing a law and order agenda in relation to “African gangs” in Melbourne — something Victoria Police has said do not exist. The Oz last year also ran a series of stories about the “crisis” with a special graphic tag in the print editions.

The Australian’s editor-in-chief Chris Dore did not respond to Crikey’s request for comment before deadline.

Peter Fray

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