Channel Seven is standing by a “fear mongering” feature on African Australians despite a protest planned outside its Melbourne office.
The Sunday Night program this week made claims of “African gangs running riot” and featured the story of Toorak jewellery shop worker Elaine French.
Ms French said trauma from two armed robberies in October 2016 and January 2017 stopped her from going to shopping centres because she would have a panic attack if she saw a “coloured person”.
The episode sparked plans for a peaceful protest at 4pm on Friday at the Channel 7 Docklands building. More than 1200 people on Facebook said they were interested in attending.
Organiser Titan Debirioun said the protest was to “demand answers, justice, an apology and most of all, for our voices to be heard”.
“You guys are making people fear us for no reason. You’re making people look at us like we’re monsters, as if we’re not people. We’re just like anyone else, we have dreams, we have aspirations. We have hard working people that are trying to change lives,” he said in a video posted to Facebook.
Mr Debirioun said the community would continuously protest and “pretty much declare war on Channel Seven” to stop further vilification.
A Sunday Night spokesperson on Thursday stood by “every element of the report”.
“It was a fair and factual report that gave context to an ongoing and important issue in Melbourne,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The New Daily.
The media continues to vilify and demonise our community year after year, it seems that we’ve been downgraded from people into juicy headlines guaranteed to raise viewership. We understand that a minority of our community has been involved in criminal activity, we do not at all condone their actions however they are not a representation of our community as a whole. 7 has attached themselves to one side of the story and refuse to offer balanced journalism, as a result our whole community has now been forced to live in a society, where all of us have been declared guilty of the crimes of a minority in the court of public opinion. We demand answers, justice, an apology and most of all, for our voices to be heard.Link to the protest: https://www.facebook.com/events/199701817324202/?ti=icl
Posted by Titan Debirioun on Tuesday, July 10, 2018
“The investigation went beyond simply reporting the experience of victims. Sunday Night set out to show the circumstances of a local South Sudanese musician who had fallen into a life of crime, and how he has now turned his life around and is producing music in the hope of steering other South Sudanese youth away from making the same mistakes.”
Along with Ms French, the program featured 29-year-old South Sudanese rapper Torit Chol Bol, who has spent time in jail.
He spoke of racism he faced after arriving in Australia in 2004, having fled the Sudanese civil war to a Kenyan refugee camp.
Mr Chol Bol said his father, a soldier, was killed in the war and he saw dead bodies and blood-drenched ground at the age of four.
Sunday Night staged a meet and greet between Ms French and Mr Chol Bol.
Barely a week goes by when they’re not in the #news – African #gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc. Police are hesitant to admit there’s even a problem. The latest attack was just days ago, so what can be done? The major investigation on #SN7 – 8:20pm on @Channel7. pic.twitter.com/nTJW9Y8DYo
— Sunday Night (@sundaynighton7) July 4, 2018
He thanked her for finding the courage to speak with him, and she said the meeting was a big step in her recovery.
On Facebook, Mr Debirioun accused the program of treating the vulnerable community like a “cash cow”, in a cynical ploy to boost ratings.
“What you say affects millions of people, and it seems like Channel Seven doesn’t care about that.”
He said the criminal minority was not representative of the community as a whole.
Outrage had already developed before the program following the release of a promotional video.
“Barely a week goes by when they’re not in the news. African gangs running riot, terrorising, robbing, wreaking havoc,” the teaser said.
Prominent African and South Sudanese Australians spoke out on social media about the impact the media reporting had on their liveability.
Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said the promotional video “smacks of fear mongering and racial hysteria”.
“Disappointing to see this kind of approach – it’s a recipe for division and racial profiling,” he wrote on Twitter.
The hashtag #NotMyAustralia trended in Melbourne on Sunday night.
Sudanese people make up 1 per cent of alleged offenders in Victoria, according to the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA).
People born in Sudan make up 0.1 per cent of Victoria’s total population, meaning the population is overrepresented in alleged crimes.
But the inflamed debate about home invasions has not been mirrored by crime trends.
Data released by CSA last month showed the number of non-aggravated burglaries plummeted almost 15 per cent in the past year.
Aggravated burglaries also dropped about 12 per cent.
Also on Channel Seven, the Sunrise morning program was disrupted earlier this year by angry protesters over an interview about Aboriginal adoptions in New South Wales.
The New Daily contacted Mr Debirioun.