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12 June 2012
Australians may like to think of themselves as ant- authoritarian larrikins but deep down they like to follow rules and believe that people trying to enter Australia should do likewise, a Deakin University analysis of the popular TV Show Border Security reveals.
Dr Emma Price from the School of Communication and Creative Arts, and Dr Amy Nethery from the University’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, asked ‘self-confessed’ reality TV viewers why they liked Border Security. (Channel 7 Mondays)
“Border Security first screened in 2004 and has continued to attract high ratings,” Dr Price said.
“The program was launched in the context of constant national and international news headlines featuring stories about asylum seekers on the Tampa, the children overboard issue, the terrorist attacks in the US and the Bali Bombings.
“This had created a sense of insecurity about the world outside Australia’s borders and the policing of Australia’s borders became a political issue.
“One key aspect of the national debate was the question of whether the asylum seekers were genuine or not.”
Dr Nethery said Border Security was the first program to appear which reassured the public that the laws for entering the country were being enforced.
“Fundamentally these programs tapped into questions about whether people should be allowed to be part of Australian society or not.
“The criteria for being allowed to be part of the Australian community were whether newcomers told the truth.
“Truthfulness is one of the key rules of behaviour in Australia, and an important test for inclusion in the Australian community.
“Anything less than being truthful warrants exclusion.”
Dr Price said over the years the enduring popularity of Border Security had been attributed to people getting a certain pleasure from watching government agencies go about their work, but also because the program tapped into audience’s concerns about their vulnerability in the world.
“Our research findings showed that audiences aren’t just passive recipients of the program, they actively engage with it,” she said.
“Some of the viewers we talked to enjoyed the program because they saw it as factual and it made them feel good that there were people out there trying to make it safe for us all.
“Viewers talked about the sense of pleasure they felt because justice was being seen to be done by the Customs Officers but also because they wanted to know what happened to the person involved.
“Have they been charged, did they go to jail, were they back on the street?
“Others interestingly saw this factual approach as a form of lecturing, teaching them a lesson, which they weren’t receptive to.
“While some viewers felt uneasy because the program was so believable.
“They were concerned that it perpetuated the idea that Australia had to protect its borders, that there were people trying to smuggle things in and get in and that it cheapened the whole immigration process.
“Others felt they were being manipulated by the promotion of certain stereotypes to promote a feeling of paranoia.”
Dr Nethery said the success of Border Security came from the role telling the truth played – not just in its role in deciding whether a person was allowed through immigration or not – but also whether the viewers felt the program was telling them the truth.
“Just as audiences test the people represented on Border Security for their authenticity, they apply the same test to the program itself,” she said.
Deakin Media Relations
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