Vilification of ‘struggle street’ is commonplace in Australian media and must stop: ACOSS

The Australian Council of Social today joined the growing chorus of voices calling for the suspension of the SBS documentary Struggle Street, adding that degrading and insulting portrayals of people doing it tough in our community is commonplace in large sections of the Australian media and must stop.

“While SBS has been rightly called to account by the local community about the way in which this documentary has been produced and the end product, this is not an isolated incident,” said ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie.

“ACOSS, and many of our member organisations in the community sector, has been deeply concerned about this issue for a long time – the misrepresentation of whole groups of people and local communities, particularly people struggling to survive on low income support payments, including sole parents and people on the Disability Support Pension, or experiencing personal challenges.

“Sadly vilification of people on ‘welfare’ continues to be a feature of our commercial media landscape and it’s extremely disappointing that SBS should seek to follow suit in this documentary, especially when the special broadcaster is usually one of the most sensitive to the issue of poverty and disadvantage in much of its programing.

“Many of our members have raised these issues with media outlets and the Australian Press Council over the years. ACOSS has also raised it with successive governments, particularly when it has involved government departments like Centrelink providing networks with undercover footage identifying people of suspected fraud activity before people have appeared in court or convicted of any charges.

“It’s also been striking to us that despite the very low levels of overall fraud among people on income support (0.02%), it invariably seems to attract disproportionate coverage in influential sections of the commercial media in ways that demean all people on income support payments.

“We have been heartened by the overwhelming reaction to this SBS documentary – from the local community, the wider community and media outlets themselves. We particularly applaud the local participants and the Blacktown Local Council for taking a stand, and we stand with them.

“We urge SBS management to listen to the local Blacktown community and immediately suspend the planned broadcast until the participants are shown the documentary in full and had their views heard about its contents before it goes to air.

“Our hope is that we can use this sorry episode for a conversation about the important role of the media in documenting and portraying individuals and communities experiencing hardship. It’s time to draw a line on reporting and portrayals that seek to mock, degrade, insult and do damage to people and divide our community,” Dr Goldie said.

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas – 0419 626 155