The ‘Sudanese Brawls’

By Kot Monoah

The media coverage of the Ms South Sudan Pageant is yet another example of the negative coverage faced by the Australian Sudanese Community. As we know, the media is fond of linking brawls and violence to the Sudanese community as illustrated in the media coverage as follows.

Migrants from Sudan, both law-abiding and law-breakers, have been equally tarnished in the past week with a welter of bad publicity about brawls, riots and assaults on cops, all linked to two “Sudanese beauty pageants”.

“Another Sudanese brawl injures three” was the headline in The Age. “Police attacked as they try to stop fighting between Sudanese,” was the heading in the Herald Sun.  Not a good time to be a refugee from Sudan in Melbourne. Murdoch’s national Oz broadened it out to rope in everyone from the Dark Continent (Africa): “Violence clouds future of African pageants”.  Alongside these Sudanese reports were The Age reports of a foreign student returning home to India because he was “bashed unconscious by five men he describes as African”.

The Sudanese violence was no surprise toVictoria’s deputy top-cop, Sir Ken Jones. As he pointed out on 3AW radio, “the nation of Sudan has been wracked with violence and war for decades and migrants, particularly young males, come with that violence as their background modeling”.

He furthered his opinions that, “Young refugees from war-torn countries often struggled to adapt to new laws and ways of living in other countries”, he said. “The youngsters coming out of there have known little else and it does take them a long time to make the transition”.

The media coverage and commentary as illustrated above depict that when some Sudanese pop a cork; the whole “community” cops the flak.

I personally had the delight of attending the Ms South Sudan pageant show on Saturday the 23 April 2011. Indeed it was an exciting show with enthusiastic young people supporting the beauty contestants. The show that night ended peacefully at the Springvale Town Hall.

The media has alleged that violent brawls occurred at a Ms South Sudan related after-party in Clayton. However, what the media has failed to understand is that this event was not related to the Ms South Pageant.  The pageant had finished the night before.

The organisers of the pageant were approached by a group of DJs who wanted to thank them for organising a successful beauty pageant as well as for supporting the models as role models for Sudanese women. The DJs asked them to guarantee the party venue at Clayton.

The after-parties were not hosted by the Ms South Sudan Pageant but rather guaranteed the venue to the DJs with stipulated rules. Ms South Sudan Australia restricted the consumption of alcohol at the party, and the violence at the party in Clayton was not the responsibility of Ms South Sudan Australia. It is unfortunate that these brawls coincided with the Ms South Sudan Australia Pageant.  Alcohol fuelled violence occurs regardless of ethnicity, and is in fact a problem affecting Australian society at large. 

I have watched the media reporting of these events with horror. How could these unrelated brawls have been linked with the Ms South Sudan pageant show?

I was approached by Channel 9 and The Age reporters in relation to an unrelated brawl which occurred on Monday night at Pennell Reserve in Braybrook.

I told the reporters that the brawl was unrelated to the pageant but the media coverage linked it to the Ms South Sudan pageant show nevertheless.

Such coverage reveals and reinforces misconceptions about the Sudanese community. The actions of drunken persons are not ethnic issues but alcohol issues.

Such media coverage seems to stem from ignorance and a failure to observe the ethical obligations of journalism. The message that ought to have reached the Australian community should have been that:

Ms South pageant show aims to create opportunities for young Southern Sudanese women to empower them towards greater self confidence and enhance their strength to address a diverse range of needs. It is an opportunity to celebrate as a community the ambitions of young people and their leadership.

It is expected that journalists and people in positions of power provide a correct version of events and comments that do not racially profile a community. This type of misinformation can breed hate and the vilification of certain community groups. Journalists need to be sure their stories are accurate because inaccuracy has serious consequences for those who have been misrepresented.

Kot Monoah is a practising Australian Lawyer of Sudanese origin.

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