Trandall6’s Blog

Week 10: Media Discourse

Posted on: May 19, 2009

Macken-Horarik, M 2003, ‘The children overboard affair’, Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, Feb. pp. 1-16.


Tim Randall




Hi guys this week I will be talking about the text “A telling symbiosis in the field of hatred” by Mary Macken-Horarik. The text is concerned with news reports that make use of multiple mediums to create meaning such as picture and written word. The author argues that while seeming unbiased media outlets use discourse to promote an agenda. The text explains that grammar, which is tools for analysing such texts has not been developed. Newspaper reports concerned with the “children overboard” controversy in 2001 are used as an example. The author uses this example to argue that while seeming unbiased media discourse is used to portray asylum seekers as an immoral faceless other while their accusers are portrayed positively.


The text firstly gives background of the event. In short reports of asylum seekers throwing their children overboard were on the front pages of many newspapers during the 2001 election when the Liberal party was re-elected. When the government heard of the story from an unreliable source they made it known to the public aiding their re-election by justifying their conservative policies. I personally find it more troubling that Australian prejudice was the deciding factor of the election regardless of the flawed information; this however is not really relevant in a discussion on media discourse.


The author also analyses how media discourse can promote an agenda, it is argued this is done in three ways. Firstly people in both mediums of the report are portrayed in either a general or specific fashion. The asylum seekers are portrayed in a general fashion by being referred to by their group such as “boat people” and their accusers are referred to individually. The author argues this contributes to asylum seekers being portrayed as a faceless other. Furthermore the author suggests the category the groups are put into in the report contributes to this bias. The accusers are defined by what role in Australian society they have for example PM John Howard which is described as a functionalist categorisation. However the asylum seekers are simply defined as boat people, an essentialist categorisation. This further contributes to a sense of otherness. Finally the role the groups are playing is argued to contribute to this bias. When active agents the asylum seekers throw children overboard when accusers are active they rescue them and provide food and shelter.


Overall I find this very interesting and was not aware how perhaps my opinions perhaps are shaped by subtle bias. It made me aware there is a further level of media literacy that most people do not possess including myself which could be taken advantage of.


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