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The 'Emperor's new clothes': the role of the Western Australian press and state government in selling the story of the Northbridge curfew

Mac Arthur, Karin (2007) The 'Emperor's new clothes': the role of the Western Australian press and state government in selling the story of the Northbridge curfew. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The Northbridge curfew is one of the stand-out success stories of Western Australia's Labor Government. Introduced in June 2003 in an alleged bid to make the streets safer, the Northbridge curfew has enjoyed overwhelming popular support and consistently high recognition in public opinion polls. This is despite the fact that the curfew bypasses those known to be responsible for most of the crime in the precinct (white males aged 18 to 35 years), targeting instead young people aged under 18 and affecting indigenous girls in particular. The curfew did not introduce any legislative changes (the police already had the powers under the Child Welfare Act 1947 to apprehend young people); neither did it allocate any additional resources to the organisations working with young people in Northbridge. Yet the coverage of the curfew in the WA press implied that indigenous youth presented a serious problem in Perth's premier entertainment district and that the State Government was doing something about it.

This thesis uses a framing analysis of the press coverage of the Northbridge curfew as well as interviews with the relevant journalists and government media advisers to demonstrate how news values, work routines and political imperatives encouraged the WA press and State Government to work together in creating a 'fable' about Northbridge that criminalised indigenous youth. I argue that the story of the Northbridge curfew, like the 'Emperor's new clothes', presents a deliberate distortion of reality and that the various stages of its development illuminate the processes by which media and government can collaborate to manipulate public opinion.

I draw on my research findings to present recommendations designed, first, to encourage media professionals to develop a range of sources beyond government and, second, to draw the attention of the State Government to the broader ramifications of the Northbridge curfew story for all members of the Western Australian community.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Media, Communication and Culture
Supervisor(s): Phillips, Gail
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