Australian current affairs TV program accused of inciting religious hatred

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Australian media analysis program Media Watch has accused popular national "current affairs" style program Today Tonight of deliberately quoting a Muslim youth out of context, with the intention of presenting a negative stereotype of the Muslim community. The allegations were aired during Monday night's episode.

According to Mediawatch, Abdul Elayoubi of the Lebanese Muslim Association was approached by Tim Noonan, a freelance film producer wanting to produce a short documentary to air on the Seven Network. Mr Elayoubi was cautious because of a prior misrepresentation, however was assured that the program would "show Australians from non-Islamic backgrounds the viewpoint of young Muslims and the pressure they face in an often hostile society", according to a letter from Peter Meakin, the Seven Network's head of news and current affairs. Elayoubi said "Tim told us he’d be doing the editing himself and would give it to Channel 7 completed," and was assured that quotes would not be taken out of context to further vilify Australian Muslims.

Three Muslim youths, Khaled, Ahmed and Samir, agreed to participate in the documentary. Despite prior reassurances, Tim Noonan did not produce a completed documentary. The film was subsequently narrated by David Richardson, who had not met the boys and who got Samir's name wrong throughout the piece.

The quote "we will never integrate, the way other communities integrate purely because of the fact that you have to draw a line with what your idea of integration is and what our idea of integration and accepting the practices of other people are," was reduced to "we will never integrate" during editing. Ahmed stated that the full quote itself was made to camera after a discussion including talk of how the Islamic rule prohibiting consumption of alcohol was a barrier to full social integration.

The interviewer, Tim Noonan, dismissed the claims in a statement to Media Watch, saying "I believe the edit was an accurate representation of what they told me and I absolutely deny that anything was taken out of context."

The aired quote was picked up by other media bodies, most noticeably Sydney talk radio 2UE, where it was allegedly used to incite religious and racial intolerance. The quote was then further publicised by Today Tonight in a follow-up piece the next evening.