‘Sunrise’ Has A Terrible Track Record Of Race-Related Reporting & We Should Not Forget That

With Sunrise finding itself at the centre of a global moment involving 7 News journalists being assaulted by violent police forces in Washington DC, the program has taken the opportunity to position itself at the centre of the debate today. That would be fine if we were willing to forget the years of amplification the show afforded to Pauline Hanson, or the poor track record of the show’s hosts on the subject of race. Which we, frankly, should not be.

Yesterday morning, 7 News’ US correspondent Amelia Brace and her camera operator Tim Myers were reporting live from the streets of Washington DC near the White House. That live cross was picked up by Sunrise, mostly by pure luck.

The footage, which has since attracted global attention and condemnation, shows the line of DC Riot Police suddenly pressing forward 30 minutes prior to the city’s curfew coming into effect. One officer struck Myers in the torso with a riot shield, while another struck a retreating Brace across the back with a baton. Both were struck with rubber bullets fired by police weapons. That police action was undertaken so President Trump could have a clear path to walk from the White House to the nearby St John’s Church, where he bizarrely posed for a photo op.

This morning, Sunrise has been on a tear, covering a litany of issues central to the core of the current American unrest with the kind of affected dignity that only David Koch is capable of.

Across this week, Sunrise has adopted the sweeping “America in Chaos” theme for its coverage.

On today’s episode alone, the show featured a broad range of coverage spanning geo-political insights from University of Oklahoma Professor Keith Gaddie

…a live cross from the streets of New York City from NBC reporter Ron Allen

…an interview with Reverend Kevin McCall, who has spent time personally counselling the family of George Floyd

…a discussion on US civil rights and race with San Diego-based Reverend and activist Shane Harris

…and a follow-up cross with Brace and Myers, the latter of which Kochie stated, with a laugh, “he must be a bit battered and bruised from that shield going into the guts.”

And while that’s all valuable coverage in the moment, it’s a wild pivot that attempts valiantly to ignore the show’s own contributions to the demonisation of minorities and people of colour over the years, which are significant.

It was Sunrise who, almost single-handedly, provided the foundations for Pauline Hanson and One Nation’s political resurgence, thanks to a paid weekly interview slot on the show that gave Hanson unfettered air time to promote her harmful anti-immigration political ideology.

It was a regular interview slot that frequently went unchallenged, too. In an infamous 2016 segment, Koch even went so far as to flat-out agree with Hanson’s rhetoric, asserting “Pauline, I agree with a lot of what you are saying. I would drive migrants back to the airport with you if they did not respect this country and our culture. It is a privilege to come here.”

In fact, Hanson appeared as a regular, paid guest on the show up until March of last year, when Koch fired back at a prickly Hanson over comments she made in regards to the Christchurch Mosque terrorist attack, in a segment widely panned for its opportunism given the show’s storied history with Hanson as a guest.

But even beyond its regular guests, the problems Sunrise has with covering race run deep.

Host Samantha Armytage has repeatedly committed on-air race-related errors. In 2015, Armytage attracted widespread scorn and a petition calling for her resignation after flippantly congratulating a UK woman for having fairer skin than her twin sister.

Then again in 2018, Armytage chaired an infamous Sunrise segment on Indigenous adoption; one in which she falsely claimed that Indigenous children could not be fostered by white people, before asserting “Post-Stolen Generation, there’s been a huge move to leave Aboriginal children where they are, even if they’re being neglected in their own families.” The segment attracted repeated protest action outside Sunrise‘s Martin Place studios at the time. Armytage herself later received a reprimand from the Australian Communications and Media Authority who ruled that the segment contained incorrect statements and “strong negative generalisations about Indigenous people as a group.”

At a time where Australia’s own atrocious record of Indigenous deaths in police custody is being brought back to the public conscious, it’s galling that Sunrise is positioning itself as a central water cooler on the events currently gripping the United States. It’s a position borne of pure luck, and it’s certainly one that’s approaching the issue not so much as a totem of considered information, but as a grotesque spectator sport.

Sunrise‘s past contributions to harmful racist ideologies and its history of negative comment towards non-white people – though indirect in intent – is notable, and appalling. And it’s a mucky old oil that producers are, apparently, now attempting to mix with all-new water.