By Olivia Tseu-Tjoa
The sheer complexity and depth of the issue of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia has definitely become apparent over the weeks. With such a complicated issue, planning a design proposition feels like a daunting task. I found the design examples shown in Kate Sweetapple’s lecture on ‘Poetic data visualisation’ to be delightful yet thoughtful. At this point I’m asking myself: what I am genuinely interested in and passionate about? How can I use generative systems, service design or data visualisation to explore my problem statement?
Who, What, When, Where and Why
After weeks of investigating the issue, it was my intent to create a problem statement based on the rhetoric surrounding refugees in Australian media and politics.
Who does the problem affect?
Asylum seekers and refugees. Politicians. News outlets, from public broadcasters to independent, from both left-leaning and conservative newspapers. Ultimately, affecting the general public’s opinion. These actors have a complex and dynamic relationship with each other.
What are the boundaries of the problem?
The misrepresentation of refugees in media leads to a lack of awareness and even ignorance. Government policy currently in place has bipartisan support. Political language and rhetoric only reinforce their ‘tough’ stance on the intake and treatment of refugees. This can be extremely problematic when in some cases, government and media rhetoric conflate the issue of terrorism with refugees. There is an element of the criminalisation of refugees through government policy and language.
When does the problem occur? When does it need to be fixed?
This problem is an ongoing issue. It demands urgent action. However, it’s not realistic to expect an immediate change. Instead, urging for a gradual change over time.
Where is the problem occurring?
Although the misrepresentation of refugees is widespread across the world, I am solely focusing on an Australian context. It is occurring through television, news outlets and Parliament. There is even a certain complacency in many Australian households. People who don’t necessarily pay attention or engaged with issue because it feels so far removed from their daily lives.
Why is it important that the problem is fixed? What impact does it have on all stakeholders?
Moral conscience, responsible and integrity in journalism. Journalists need to critique and interrogate what the government says. Holding politicians accountable for what they say and do. Refugees are disempowered and dehumanised. Foreign editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan has said, “If you dehumanise a group of people in the public mind, it is much easier to deny them their human rights without generating a vast outcry. ” (Sheridan 2001). Misinformation leads to a lack of awareness and even ignorance. They have the power to sway and influence public opinion.
From the above process, my problem statement is:
Refugee voices are almost absent in mainstream media and our daily lives. Often their opinions and perspectives are silenced, especially the detainees in offshore detention centres who are censored by the government. As a result, the issue is out of sight and out of mind for many young Australians.
According to journalist Ben Doherty, only “a minority of Australians has first-hand knowledge of boat-borne asylum seekers, and government influence in shaping public opinion can be seen to be amplified on issues about which people have little or no personal experience.” (Doherty 2015).
Possibilities for a design response
I didn’t want to pigeon–hole myself into one area of emergent practices especially at this stage of the process. My initial design propositions are:
- A generative system that collates negative tweets that describe refugees and displays them in a public space. For example, recently Donald Trump Jr tweeted a picture likening refugees to the candy, Skittles. These screens would be put in public spaces, forcing people to take notice of what we say in the Twittersphere and that they have actual consequence.
- A data visualisation of a word or sentiment analysis of politicians transcripts over time. Comparing and contrasting the dialogue about asylum seekers from the 1970s to today would reveal the shift in attitudes, while also finding a way to map time differently rather than a conventional timeline.
- A system that empowers and amplifies the voices of refugees who have resettled in Australia, allowing them to portray and control their own narratives. It would be an opportunity to reclaim their own representation and sense of autonomy in the media. Accessibility for various languages. Could be generative or service design.
- An empathic approach, somehow putting young Australians in a refugee’s position through a questionnaire or survey. For example, how would the user feel if they were described as ‘illegal’ or a ‘crisis’? It would be confronting, questioning and reconsidering how we use words. From their response, it could be a visualised design probe.
- Holding politicians and the media accountable for what they say. Problematic wording and not facing consequences, besides condemning articles or opinion pieces.
Drafting a proposal
Emergent practice: A generative system/service design
While considering the target audience of 18-24 year olds, the third idea feels the most appropriate idea to address my problem statement. It would have room for discussion and facilitate a thoughtful conversation about the issue.
Through audio recordings, former refugees who have resettled are able to record their experiences, thoughts and feelings verbally. Ideally, this system would be accessible, as it would be available in a variety of languages. This collection of recordings would result in an oral archive, where the nature of storytelling and conversations are universal across many cultures.
It is designed to counteract the often negative rhetoric and language surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in Australian media. It aims to change the focus on refugees who have settled in Australia and have found a sense of belonging in their communities, allowing Australians to hear these stories.