Analysis of Media Coverage on Rheumatic Heart Disease

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The Influence of Media on the Perception of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Culture

The 21st-century media has permeated the different aspects of the lives of people to become a crucial part of daily life. The media influences opinions and through the news by suggesting and objectifying facts with a degree of truth that is subject to interpretation according to the dispensation of the audience. Media content on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people of Australia is one key example of how influential the media can be when reporting on peculiar matters such as the distinct identity of the indigenous community. Fundamentally, there is a question of whether the media influences how the rest of Australians perceive the Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture. The objective of this study is to critically analyse two media reports that will help in determining whether there are flawed media reporting about the health and social well-being of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people.


According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies, the two groups constitute the indigenous people of Australia for having a distinct culture with a diverse language base of more than 250 different languages spread across the land (Janke, 2018). The two groups dominated Australia before the arrival of European Settlers, and each group had a distinct cultural, religious and lifestyle setting. For instance, all the Aboriginal people shared a similar way of life and religious beliefs with a unique country, legend, ceremonies and upbringing. The Strait Islanders people adopted their name from the strait that separates the Cape York and the south Coats of Papua Guinea (Casey, 2018). Data from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade show that 30 % of the group lives in major cities while a significant 20 % and 23 % live in inner and outer regions respectively. With only 9 % living in the remote area, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people have assimilated into the Australian way of life and are part of the country's culture.

The media coverage of the issues affecting the group has often been seen as to perpetuate institutional racism that is transferred to the general population (McCausland, 2005). The people who work in the media are Australian who may have ill-informed and prejudiced views about the history and culture experiences as well as practices of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Plater (1992) agrees with McCausland (2005) in that media reporting of Aboriginal Affairs from land rights to health issues is carried out with a degree of reservation of overemphasis on their distinct culture instead of focusing on the issues affecting the community. The flawed reporting is has caused a mistrusts between the indigenous people and eh rest of the population as reporters appropriate the Aboriginal's stories to suit a specific narrative rather than provide objectivity that helps in developing and testing solutions (Sweet, 2009). The following section of the study critically analyses two media content about the Aboriginal and Strait Islanders people.

Rheumatic Heart Disease Coverage of Arnhem Land Children by ABC News

On August 31st, 2018, Lucy Marks of ABC News Australia wrote an article titled "Arnhem Land children suffer the world's highest known rates of rheumatic heart disease." Even though the article was meant to raise awareness on the health issue affecting the community, the manner of reporting was biased towards the children. In the opening paragraph of the report, Marks (2018) contends that the remote region of Maningrida Australia has the highest rate of Rheumatic heart disease in the world and children as young as four years old die from the disease. However, data from the World Economic Forum showed in 2012 that the region of Turkmenistan has the largest risk and rate of cardiovascular diseases for both children and adults including Rheumatic disease (Myers, 2015). Reported data on a news article requires referencing to provide objectivity and show that the information is not an opinion of one person with an agenda. ABC published the article with the sensational claim of the indigenous people from Maningrida having the highest rate of Rheumatic Disease which is not factual. As noted by Sweet (2009), one of the ways that the media influences public opinion is by reporting on the problem sensationally instead of researching on methods of developing and testing solutions. In the article, the journalist is keen to point out details about the Maningrida people which have a minor relation to the health issue. For example, there is an emphasis on the level of poverty and poor housing for the children who suffered Rheumatic heart condition but lack of information on how the government or other agencies have attempted to solve the problem.

Another factor of consideration in the article is the headline that marginalizes a community as having a non-factual risk to Rheumatic disease. Studies by social scientists have proven that newspaper headlines influence the constitutions of social imaginary (Wainberg, 2015). Therefore, when Marks (2018) wrote the headline above, she shifted the truth and influenced how both the indigenous of Maningrida and the rest of Australia view the status of health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people. Platers (1992) notes that the Aboriginal issues are a blind spot of Australian Journalism which explains the often flawed reporting that leaves a majority of the indigenous population feeling disenfranchised. The blind spot accrued is notable in the article through quotes such as "the housing situation in Maningrida is atrocious" and "scourge of a third world disease in a first world country" (Marks, 2018). Essentially, the association of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders influences the choice of strong words that sensationalize the problem instead of offering a solution. Finally, although the report sought to raise awareness of a health issue affecting the indigenous community, a comparative statistic concerning children with Rheumatic disease in the rest of Australia would have helped reduce the spotlight on Maningrida people and give the story a national concern. However, the overemphasis on the problems of the children in a population of just 3000 people may not even warrant national attention, and people can dismiss the story. According to McCausland (2005), racism in the media is projected in more subtle ways such as the blatant ignorance of facts in the mentioned article. The effect is the formation of social constructs by the broader Australian population that cause marginalization on the particular group. The following section shows the analysis of a video on the mental health of Aboriginal and Strait Islanders to show further how visual content influences public opinion.

Analysis of Visual Media on Mental Health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

ABC News conducted showed a six-minute video on their website about the association of mental health and the probability of going to jail for the indigenous communities in Australia. The article titled "Indigenous people with mental health issues 'on a train' to prison: UNSW study" is descriptive of how mentally unstable people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture end up in jail, but the accompanying visual media is a representation of the abject state of mental illness among the population (Stewart and Andersen, 2015). The first major bias of the video is the choice of words that suggest that the problem of mental illness is a major cause of jail time. The narrator comments several times and even headlines the video as mental illness being "a train" to jail for the Aboriginal people (ABC News Australia, 2015). The notion that the prison system is populated by people from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island is negated by statistics indicating that the correction system consists of between 20 - 30 % of indigenous people (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2017). The study acknowledges that the figure is subject to interpretation relative the entire population of indigenous people. However, the statistics do not warrant the suggestion that the minorities fill the prisons on account of having mental illness issues.

The reader might question the problem with reporting about an issue happening among the society. The study submits that although ABC News is mandated to inform the public on how mental illness is associated with the possibility of imprisonment, commentary without facts and academic support suggests flawed journalism. For example, both the article and the accompanying visual aid report regularly on the legal aspect of the lives of Aboriginal people in prison with minimal regard for what the government institutions do to help solve the problem of depression and mental illness (ABC News Australia, 2015; Stewart and Andersen, 2015).

The section of the video dedicated to addressing mental illness and depression also depicts a population troubled with the diseases. For example, the narrator provided data on how adults in correction facilities were also in the juvenile detention facilities at one point (ABC News Australia, 2015). However, instead of seeing the problem of the failure to address the issue of mental health at a young age, the reporter is quick to attribute rogue behavior at a young age to be a contributing factor for problems with the law at a later age. The reporting influences not just the rest of the population but also the approach of academic scientists who use the community as subjects with preconceived notions about their problems. Fundamentally, the burden of disease is a fact among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (Vos et al., 2009; Leonard et al., 2008). However, the overemphasis of the problem in the media instead of advocating for solutions is suggestive of institutional racism. The last identifiable bias in the video is the attempted depiction of indigenous people as mainly found in rural Australia. Data shows that a majority of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander may still practice their culture but are based in major cities, inner and outer regions. The video is synonymous with various media outlets covering stories on indigenous people in settings that show poverty and inadequate housing such as the Beyond Blue video interview on the state of depression among the Aboriginal women (Beyond Blue Official, 2015).

From the above analysis, there is evidence that the media relies mostly on history to tell stories of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people. The indigenous community has attempted a change by giving their accounts, prompting the push for organizations and media outlets with indigenous leaders to correct the numerous misconceptions. For example, gallery owner and journalist Rhoda Roberts pioneered the formation of Koori Mail that sought to tell the stories of indigenous people through positivity by showing their language, vibrancy, and culture. According to Roberts (2018), the Koori mail has helped revolutionize how people see Aboriginal and Strait Islanders such that the group can now get health benefits and legal representation from non-indigenous professionals. The media content is not just about what a person chooses to report but also to a large extent on what journalists ignore deliberately or otherwise (McCausland, 2005). Those in the media have the power to marginalize and treat the indigenous communities as a separate section of the society through biased reporting. Media content is undoubtedly critical to the mental and physical health of a population.


The study has demonstrated that the history of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is often used for segregation through media reporting. The two media reports may not have been deliberate, but the choice of words and manner of reporting is bound to influence the rest of the population to see the group as separate from the larger society. Efforts to change perception are ongoing through new media and organizations that tell the true stories.


[ABC News Australia]. (2015, Nov 2). Mental health issues 'a train to jail' for Indigenous      Australians [Video File]. Retrieved            from

Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Prisoner Characteristics. [online] Available at:[email protected]/Lookup/by%20Subject/4517.0~2017~Main%20Features~Aboriginal%20and%20Torres%20Strait%20Islander%20prisoner%20characteristics~5 [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

[Beyond Blue Official]. (2015, Nov 23). Alive and kicking goals: Women's reference group   [Video File]. Retrieved from

Casey, R. (2018). Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. [online] Australia Now. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Janke, J. (2018). Indigenous Australians: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. [online] Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Leonard, D., McDermott, R., O'Dea, K., Rowley, K. and Pensio, P. (2008). Measuring Prevalence: Obesity, diabetes and associated cardiovascular risk factors among Torres Strait Islander people. The Journal of the Public Health Association of Australia.

Marks, L. (2018). Arnhem Land children suffer world's highest known rates of rheumatic heart disease. [online] ABC News. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

McCausland, R. (2005). Special Treatment - The Representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the Media. Journal of Indigenous Policy, 4(4), pp.84-98.

Myers, J. (2015). Which countries have the most deaths from heart disease?. [online] World Economic Forum. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Plater, D. (1992). Aboriginal People and the Media Reporting Aboriginal Affairs. Aboriginal Justice Issues, 1, pp.203-209.

Roberts, R. (2018). Journalist and gallery owner Artistic Director Events, Saltwater Freshwater Festival Voice for our people. [online] Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Studies. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Stewart, J. and Andersen, B. (2015). Indigenous people with mental health issues 'on a train' to jail: UNSW study. [online] ABC News. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Sweet, M. (2009). Cause or effect? How media affects indigenous people. [online] The University of Sidney. Available at: [Accessed 15 Oct. 2018].

Vos, T., Barker, B., Begg, S., Stanley, L. and Lopez, A. (2009). Burden of disease and injury in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples: the Indigenous health gap. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38(2).

Wainberg, J. (2015). Headlines, emotions and utopia. Intercom – RBCC, 38(1), pp.191-211.

October 13, 2023

Health Sociology


Race and Ethnicity

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Indigenous People

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