Talk-Back Style and Race Stereotypes

Just how profoundly a radio presenter's style can influence the outcome of discussion on Aboriginal issues was revealed by a comparison of two different talk-back programs in Perth, in an analysis conducted by anthropologists at the University of Western Australia15. They examined segments of the Des Guilfoyle show on ABC 6WF, and Eoin Cameron's show on commercial radio 6KY, both dealing with Aboriginal land rights in WA, at the height of the debate about that issue in 1984. The analysis showed that the ABC presenter's style was characterised by:

leading callers to think through their arguments;
avoiding the promotion of his own point of view;
reservation in providing positive or negative feedback to callers;
challenging or ignoring mis-informative comments.

On the other hand, the 6KY presenter made frequent use of colloquialisms and cliches: for example 'I'm no expert but...', 'we're all in this together', 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander', 'thin end of the wedge', 'stop the rot', 'the chooks are coming home to roost' -- all phrases designed to reduce the issue to homespun, common sense attitudes, and thereby to incorporate listeners emotionally into an imaginary community of like-minded 'battlers', a move which simultaneously excludes Aboriginal people themselves from membership of that community.

The 6KY host also tended to promote his own views and opinions, and implicitly to endorse callers' negative generalisations, opinions, myths and stereotypes about Aboriginal people, for example:

Aboriginal people get too many handouts.
Aboriginal people get more than the whites.
Land rights are just one more handout.
Aboriginal people are like spoilt children.
Aboriginal people don't use the land.
Drinking rights are to blame.
Aboriginal people drink their money.
Aboriginal people were immigrants like the rest of us and thus don't deserve land rights.
Equal opportunity = equal treatment.
We are not responsible for the past.
We don't owe them anything.
Aboriginal families are like leeches and drain away each others' resources.
Real Aboriginal people = full-bloods.
Full-bloods are gentle people; part-Aboriginals are grizzlers.
Part-Aboriginals have bad blood and are whingers and stirrers.
Do-gooders are to blame; Aboriginal people are being manipulated by communists.
Aboriginal people are problems and Aboriginal people have problems.
The answer to the problem is to round them up (and variations on this theme).16

The 6KY host tended to treat Aboriginal callers with sarcasm, while the ABC presenter used such opportunities to gain more information for the benefit of listeners. Commercial radio talk-back presenters claim that their aggressive and provocative style results from the quest to 'keep the public informed'. But despite such claims the study showed that it was the reasoned, inquiring, even-handed approach of the ABC presenter that did in fact achieve an informed debate in this instance. Needless to say The Sattler File follows the tradition of 6KY, rather than that of the ABC.


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